Family is an integral part of every culture. Every culture has more in common with one another than there differences. Writer/director Emily Ting tells her personal story in her sophomore feature, Go Back to China. As a Chinese American, I found Ting’s tale and her portrayal of a Chinese family felt familiar and new at the same time.
Sasha Li (Anna Akana) is a recent fashion-school grad, who is having trouble finding work, but lives comfortably off the trust fund set up by her estranged father, Teddy (Richard Ng), in China. Sasha continually ignores her father’s phone call, until he cuts her off financially while she tries to pay for her $2,000 birthday party at a local night club.
Enraged, Sasha calls her father, who tells her that she will be permanently cut off unless she returns to China to help him run his toy manufacturing company along with her step-sister Carol (Lynn Chen). With no other financial options, Sasha reluctantly gives in to her father’s wishes returns to China.
“…her father tells her she will be permanently cut off unless she returns to China to help him run his toy manufacturing company…”
Upon arrival at her father’s estate, Sasha meets her pre-teen step brother and sister Christian (Tiger Ting) and Dior (Aviva Wang) and her father’s new “girlfriend” and her brother. That night, Teddy insists all his children gather for dinner for Sasha’s arrival. It all ends badly as old family issues bubble to the surface.
Like any good family drama, Go Back To China hits on several themes of family, parents and children, and legacy, while infusing it in the setting modern-day China. Writer/director Ting creates a fairly complicated family dynamic and at times you can’t believe, yet you can believe this really happened in her personal life.
Let’s make an attempt to highlight some of these themes starting with fathers and daughters, especially Chinese fathers and daughters. Teddy is one of those fathers, who sole expression love by providing financial of his family versus physical contact. This “love” also feels like a parent’s investment passed on to the children, so they will carry on the family business. But darn those kids and their independence and self-determination. While Sasha loves her lavish lifestyle, deep down what she wanted was a father who was home every evening. It soon plays out, that Teddy wants to pass on his business to Carol and Sasha, while Sasha wants to return home and pursue fashion design.
“Good performances and a simple story about an overly complicated family dynamic…”
Sasha must now come to grips with her place in the family and understand that the family business is not just important to maintain her father’s lifestyle, but also consider the responsibility or burden, Teddy carries to ensure his employees can provide for their families.
Akana is absolutely perfect in the role of Sasha. She understood her role perfectly and shined as the film’s emotional center and lead. She is the star of the film and her talent shines evens brighter set up against veteran Hong Kong actor Richard Ng and Lynn Chen.
Good performances and a simple story about an overly complicated family dynamic all come together making a wonderful story of family. I would be remiss in mentioning that the film may run into problems with the PC-crowd. Women’s liberation has not yet taken hold in China and patriarchy is firmly ensconced in its culture. Millennials may find this display of masculinity just a little distasteful. As a Chinese-American, I found the themes of family, work ethic, and destiny very familiar.
Go Back To China (2019) Written and directed by Emily Ting. Starring Anna Akana, Richard Ng, Lynn Chen, Kelly Hu. Go Back To China screened at the 2019 SXSW Film Festival and the 2019 Newport Beach Film Festival.
8 out of 10 stars