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Taking a 'Joy Ride' with Adele Lim: "Writing Really is the Hardest Part of the Process"

Courtesy of Lionsgate

The history of Asian-American cinema cannot be told without Crazy Rich Asians, a film that isn’t quite my thing, or Everything Everywhere All At Once, a movie I respect an awful lot. But not since Better Luck Tomorrow has an Asian-American movie felt like my kind of movie — that is until Joy Ride.

When I told director Adele Lim as much during our Zoom interview, without missing a beat, she responded: “Oh, you nasty.”

To listen to Lim speak and feel her vibe and humour is to understand where Joy Ride comes from. The film, much like the filmmaker, is unfailingly and unflinchingly authentic. There’s no apologies for the vulgarity, no performative moments to appease a greater message — Joy Ride simply exists as-is, encompassing our humour, sensitivity, and, yes, our crassness that is too often stifled down.

Joy Ride is the movie for the rest of us, and Lim, our answer.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

TAC: Going through your biography, I believe this is your first ever directing credit, even in terms of television and short films.

Adele Lim: The last thing I directed prior to Joy Ride was a PSA for my TV class at Emerson College about sexually transmitted diseases. I made my boyfriend at the time pretend he had syphilis. I totally got an A.

Well, that’s amazing. So this is a true directorial debut for you. Of all the stories you could have told, why was this the one you wanted to make for your first go?

It could have only been Joy Ride. [Screenwriters] Cherry Chevapravatdumrong, Teresa Hsiao, and I have been friends for a long time, and this movie came from our friendship — the time we spent together, the stories from our nasty, messy, ridiculous [experiences]. Whatever technical skills I lacked coming into the directorial role, I knew that, at the very least, I would have an understanding of the story, forwards and backwards. I knew these characters, the world, the experience, the feelings, and the emotions that I wanted the audience to feel. I'm a writer at heart and I think having that hold on the story was tremendously helpful.

Did you miss the writing process?

Do I miss actually being the one typing the scenes into Final Draft? Fuck no! Writing is hard as shit, girl. I came out of the process realizing that all my suspicions were confirmed: writing really is the hardest part of the process. All credit really does go to Cherry and Teresa on this.

A great sentiment for the Writer’s Guild right now.

Yes, absolutely!

Photo Credit: Ed Araquel

So I have to ask, how did you get former-NBA player Baron Davis?

How fantastic is Baron Davis, by the way?

He’s great! I wasn’t expecting that performance from him in the slightest.

I’m not really into basketball; Teresa Hsiao really is the basketball nerd. We knew we wanted Lolo (played by Sherry Cola) to hook up with this character, and we had this idea of a basketball player that had gone to Asia and made it big there. We couldn't use a current NBA star because the season was still going on as we were shooting it. We were like, “Well, who would be a natural, amazing, charismatic ‘get’ for us?” And Baron Davis was at the very top of that list.

I’ve seen him on Inside the NBA and he’s very natural in front of the camera. Yeah, and especially when you have the effervescent, talented cast that we have, you want to make sure that whoever you have playing with them can just vibe off that energy. [Baron] has that charm and that fearlessness, and a little bit of that naughty behaviour that is such a natural fit, particularly for that unhinged, sexually charged montage we have in the middle of the movie.

I love that montage. There’s never a moment where Lolo hesitates. It’s all so natural.

That's Lolo's superpower: they don't second guess themselves when it comes to identity and their sexuality. They just go for it.

After writing Crazy Rich Asians and Raya and The Last Dragon and now directing Joy Ride, do you get worried about being pigeon-holed as the Asian filmmaker that only does Asian things? I spent most of my early career being worried about being pigeon-holed as the soft female writer or relationship writer. You're constantly trying to prove yourself to an outsider point of view, and I'm kind of over that honestly. It's hard enough finding an amazing story to tell and tell it well. I just want to jump into the next story I find amazing and compelling, and not worry about what the industry or outsiders feel like it's saying about myself as a creator.

A lot is being made about the raunchy nature of the movie, which is a fantastic part of the movie. But what really struck me about Joy Ride was how you illustrated the many issues the Asian diaspora deals with, but it’s never heavy-handed or even played very seriously, and it’s clearly written by people who have experienced these things. Did you have any push back from the studios in terms of how overt or obvious certain messaging around the Asian experience would be?

Lionsgate and Point Gray, our producing partners, could not have been more supportive about this. They saw that we had a really strong vision for what this movie is and our voices, and they encouraged us to lean harder in that direction.

There are things about the Asian-American experience that an outsider may find more interesting and want to lead with, but that's not how we are. When you and your Asian friends are hanging out, we're not waking up going, “Oh my god, the burden of Asian representation in my life!” You play it for laughs [because] it's part of your existence. You don't want to deny it, but at the same time, it doesn't define you.

We are not defined by those characteristics that an outsider group might perceive to be the dominant thing. There are all these little elements that make up our day, but that's not the main thrust. That's not the main story of our characters or our journeys. We don't ignore the big issues, but [the characters] are not defined by it. They're more interested in hooking up with cute basketball players. That's life.


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