By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
“Go Back to China,” director and writer Emily Ting’s second feature film, has compelling characters, suspenseful situations, and tough talk. What it doesn’t have is much gild on the lily.
The characters here speak plainly, baldly, and in simple declarations, which remind us of the great lengths most movie screenplays go to, making unrealistic dialogue sound “like the real thing.” This bald dialogue sometimes cuts against the film simply because it sounds so unlike what we expect in the movies. But in the end, this is the way most people talk, most of the time.
You learn to live with it.
Anna Akana, as Sasha Li, doesn’t seem like a likeable person at the start. She’s rich, vacuous, living off a trust fund set up by her father Teddy Li (Richard Ng), a manufacturing magnate over in China.
Sasha parties herself blind in the evening—paying for everything with daddy’s credit card, natch—and pretends to go look for work in the daytime. Of course, as a graduate from a fashion program without a lick of work experience in the real world, that’s bound to not go hot.
You may say to yourself, it’s all fun until the credit card gets refused. And it is.
Akana, a fine actor who comes over to film from comedy and YouTube fame, flashes with anger and frustration. After all, not being able to pay the bill for a night on the town is the worst thing that’s happened to her so far.
It gets worse. A few phone calls give her the lowdown— Father Teddy doesn’t like her spending, shuts the card down, and, unless Sasha comes over to China immediately to help him with the family toy business, he’s cutting off all money to her and her own mother, May (Kelly Hu).
Okay, Sasha isn’t the most sympathetic person in the world. But such demands would seem outrageous to most people. Sasha gets on a plane to Shenzhen simply because she has no choice.
She arrives to find her father living in splendor, but hardly living alone. A lifelong womanizer, Teddy has several children by several wives, notably a pair of young brats named Christian (Tiger Ting) and Dior (Aviva Wang). He’s also socked in a relatively new mistress (Kendy Cheung) who understandably doesn’t get along well with Sasha’s half-sister Carol (Lynn Cheng), who runs the crowded roost.
Over the remainder of the film, Sasha will learn the logistics of running the toy factory, and get to know the workers well. This is all a little high-minded, especially when Sasha takes on the workers as her pet project, making life better for them even while Teddy curses and exclaims (in his crisp, just-slightly-British English accent), that she’s collapsing all the profit margins and putting them all in the poorhouse.
However obvious and hackneyed, the film does make important points about the state of the world. If you buy a product, any product, off a shelf in an American store, you probably don’t spend much time thinking about where it came from, or thinking about the hands that made it.
Teddy’s workers pull long hours for little pay, seeing their children only once or twice a year.
They do that because those are the economic conditions in China. It’s either do what they can to get paid, or struggle with farming back in their home regions. Or just plain starve.
Teddy really does seem like a tyrant at first. But then again, Sasha seemed like a hopeless spoiled brat. In plain, flat, but often emotionally-charged dialogue that sounds like discourses out of a soap opera, they push each other to become better people. It may not be very realistic.
In real life, folks all too often succumb to their worst sides. But it refreshes. And just perhaps, it can inspire.
You can watch “Go Back to China” on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Vudu, or Google Play. For more information, visit gobacktochinafilm.com.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.