As its working title (Joy Fuck Club) suggests, Adele Lim’s road-trip comedy is an unapologetically bold, brash raunchfest. Following four Asian-American pals as they cut loose in China, Joy Ride is keen to prove that cinema’s marginalised groups can be as wild, gross, and playful as the brawling bros of The Hangover or Pineapple Express.
Ambitious lawyer and transracial adoptee Audrey (Ashley Park) finds her Beijing business trip quickly skidding into a frenzied friends’ getaway with her mouthy BFF Lolo (a caustic Sherry Cola), loner K-pop fan Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), and college-buddy-turned-Chinese-soap-star Kat (Stephanie Hsu).
But what elevates this culture-clash comedy is its eagerness to dig into chewy identity issues. Audrey is ordered to produce her unknown Chinese birth mother as a deal-closer to prove to her big client that she honours her heritage. But the ensuing cross-China quest is soon derailed by a riotous run-in with a drug dealer, kicking off a string of raucous comic chaos.
First-time director Lim (co-writer of Crazy Rich Asians) swiftly shoves the foursome into a welter of cocaine-fuelled wildness with a pec-packed athletic team, but their threesomes and Theragun antics feel refreshingly sex-positive. Humour, not humiliation, fuels the film’s exploration of genital art, hilarious hook-ups, and jaw-dropping tattoos.
A quartet of deft performances helps keep things real, whether it’s Park (Emily in Paris) revealing Audrey’s secret pain at ‘not belonging anywhere’ or the saucy, wisecracking Cola hinting at her character’s fraying bond with Audrey. But the real joys on this ride are non-binary comedian Wu’s oddball outsider charm (they’re a delight conjuring up a K-pop/Cardi B tribute sequence) and the wry, reckless comic chops of Everything Everywhere All at Once’s Hsu as high-libido Kat, who’s struggling with her religious fiancé’s (Desmond Chiam) chastity.
Lim’s energetic direction operates in a straightforward character-led mode (no Hangover-ish Scorsese shot homages, little slapstick) that puts fierce emphasis on the film’s relationships, à la Bridesmaids. As her script for Raya and the Last Dragon showed, she has a gift for exploring the love-hate dynamics of female friendships. So, when Joy Ride gearshifts late on from side-splitting to tear-jerking, the foursome’s bond keeps things on track.
If it sometimes feels a bit overstuffed, put that down to Lim’s understandable urge to prove that a gal-centred, globetrotting comedy can offer diversity, sharp social commentary, and dick jokes.
Joy Ride is in UK cinemas on August 4 and in US cinemas now.