Review by Camden Ferrell
Go Back to China had its premiere at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival. This comedy-drama was written and directed by Emily Ting. While this film doesn’t always keep the viewer engaged with its familiar plot points, there is enough charm from its lead actor to carry the story.
This movie is about Sasha, a spoiled girl who is cut off by her father after her spending gets out of control. Then, she is forced to return to China and work for her family’s toy company. This movie is one that explores the difference in cultures and one girl’s relationship with her father. It’s an interesting premise that the movie doesn’t fully explore however.
This is a semi-autobiographical film for Ting, and that authenticity is one of the best parts of this movie. It’s clear that this story is personal to her, and it gives the film a lot of its heart. Unfortunately, the way it’s executed, some of her emotions gets lost in translation while its filmed. It doesn’t fully capture the nuances of the main character or her relationship with her father, and it doesn’t do too much to set itself apart from other similar films.
The best part of this movie is the lead performance from Anna Akana. She has a great screen presence, and it’s really fun to watch her character change and develop throughout the film. She plays the spoiled brat really well, and she does a great job at portraying the struggles of going back to China and altering one’s lifestyle. It’s a captivating performance that makes up for a lot of the film’s shortcomings.
The movie feels too predictable and repetitive to really maintain its audience’s attention. The plot points are tired, and it feels like a story that we have seen multiple times before. There isn’t much spontaneity, and it hits every familiar beat in the genre. It’s not bad by any means, but it’s not original either.
However, on a thematic level, the movie succeeds fairly well. It tackles themes that are relevant to many people who have strained familial relationships or anyone who has been overwhelmed or felt misplaced in a specific country or culture. While it may not be incredibly profound, it is an undoubtedly cathartic and personal message for Ting.
The movie is also fairly funny throughout. A lot of the humor comes from Sasha’s struggles in China, and how she is trying to adapt to a less luxurious lifestyle. It also balances this with a lot of family drama fairly well. Even though certain sections drag, it doesn’t feel like there is too much drama or comedy as whole in the film.
Go Back to China isn’t the culture-clashing comedy it could have been, but it’s adequate in communicating its themes and ideas. It is a solid movie from Ting, and it serves as a showcase for Akana’s abilities as a leading actress.
Go Back to China is in select theaters March 6th.