By Mandy Day, AsAmNews Staff Writer
Emily Ting’s newest film, Go Back to China, starring Anna Akana and Lynn Chen, recently screened to audiences at the San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase. This delightful film depicts the relationship between an Americanized daughter and her father and siblings, who live a world away in China. After premiering at the acclaimed SXSW Festival in Texas, Go Back to China is currently showing at film festivals across the United States. Actress Lynn Chen, who portrays the protagonist Sasha’s (Akana) sister Carol, was in San Diego for the showcase and sat down with AsAmNews to discuss her new film.
Go Back to China tells the story of a young woman, Sasha, recently graduated from fashion school struggling to find work in the United States. Sasha is quickly spending through her million dollar trust fund, and with no luck finding work, her father (Richard Ng), demands she return to China to work in his toy factory. Upon completing one year of employment with his company, the remaining half of her trust fund will be hers to do with as she wishes.
Often, Asian American films focus on intergenerational conflict between immigrant parents and their Westernized children through the lens of the parents struggling to adjust to customs and culture abroad. Go Back to China offers a refreshing deviation by centering that conflict around Sasha’s struggle to integrate into Chinese society, specifically her non-traditional family.
“The idea of what if you had to go back there, would you be able to survive? Would you be able to acclimate? Would you be able to go back there and do what your parents did for you? Sacrificing their customs and way of life to come here. Would you be able to do that if you were to go back there?”Lynn Chen
Chen went into detail about how much of the film was inspired by Ting’s real life. “We shot in her father’s mansion and toy factory, and her (Ting’s) little brother played Anna’s little brother in the movie; the Filipina cook was Emily’s father’s actual Filipina cook,” Chen declared. Even factory workers in the real toy factory played themselves in Go Back to China.
Ting wrote, directed, and produced the film which doesn’t shy away from subjects like abortion, infidelity, the one-child policy, and labor rights. She addressed the issues honestly, but in such a way that wasn’t denigrating to China or its culture. Chen passionately discussed how relatable Go Back to China is for audiences. “Some of these things are taboo and she presents them in a way that makes us feel like we understand these people, we can relate to these people, we know these people,”Chen told AsAmNews. She emphasized that unlike other films that alienate Asian Americans, Ting makes the characters’ struggles and failures relatable.
Chen’s film career has spanned three decades, creating a bit of a fangirl moment for this writer. She is passionate about how Asians and Asian Americans are characterized in entertainment, and the roles she takes often demonstrate how much she wants Asian women to break the stereotypes that often limit what is portrayed in Hollywood. Go Back to China does was films often fail to show, the story through the lens of women. Sasha and Carol’s experiences take center stage while their father’s acts as a supporting backstory.
“We just need to see representations of ourselves. That is the first step because when you’re not used to seeing some things, it works on such a subconscious level, that when you’re not used to seeing a certain person, in a certain light, you don’t think it’s possible.”Lynn Chen
For years, Chen has told half-truths when asked if there’s change in the industry for Asian Americans. She feels like Asian actors often tell people what they want to hear because they are afraid that their voice isn’t valid. Chen stated that in the past couple of years, change is being felt and encouraged Asians to continue to speak up, because that change is happening due to the community lifting one another up. “Tell your story,” she advised Asians in the industry.
Go Back to China screens next at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival on April 16th and 20th; followed by Newport Beach Film Festival on May 1st; and Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Fest on May 4th. The film with also be screened in Bentonville, AR , and at CAAMFest in San Francisco in May.
Chen is currently in post-production for I Will Make You Mine, a sequel to Surrogate Valentine and Daylight Savings. The film marks her directorial debut. She also wrote, produced, and starred in the film.
The San Diego Asian Film Festival Spring Showcase continues daily through Thursday, and Pacific Arts Movement hosts events throughout San Diego County year round.
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