By Erin Chew
Anne Yum (Awkwafina) is a couch potato and quiz show-obsessed Asian American woman. Her sister Jenny Yum (Sandra Oh) who has been estranged from the family lives a chaotic and train wreck of a life.
Both sisters are forced to band together when they receive threats to pay off their mother’s gambling debt and begin a wild country-wide journey for Anne to become a quiz show champion and at the same time use the winning money to pay off the debt.
A very interesting storyline and comedy that touches on themes such as family dynamics and dysfunction, sisterly bonds, and confronting financial woes. Quiz Lady is directed by Academy Award-winning director Jessica Yu (Breathing Lessons, The Life & Work of Mark O’Brien), who wanted to direct a film that goes against the stereotypical grain about being Asian American – that all fall into the model minority myth.
In a recent interview with AsAmNews, Yu shared how she wanted to direct a comedy that shows how imperfect and flawed Asian American families are and can be, and that this is real life.
“As an Asian American, I am imperfect and flawed as is my family, friends and many other Asian Americans in my network. Our lives are not perfect and we all do not live a model minority life. I wanted to explore this specific experience which is more common than not and it is these layers of complexity that helped establish and added substance to the characters in the film”, Yu expressed.
More importantly, this is a film about family and about the strength of sisterhood. Despite not seeing the mother at all in the film, this does not take away from how Yu placed significance on family, and how she cleverly did this by allowing the estranged relationship between Anne and Jenny grew and developed as the film progressed.
“Quiz Lady’s ultimate purpose is to place importance on family. We have already seen many great Asian American films that are about parent-child relationships, and so I wanted to direct one that focuses on the sisters, their developing bond and how they were able to overcome serious obstacles and fend for themselves. I feel that this is a different story for Asian American characters”.
What is refreshing about this film is how it centers Asian American women as more than the predetermined racial stereotypes. Both Anne and Jenny are turbulent, not submissive and are on a journey determined to be independent, and solve their mother’s gambling debt without reliance on anyone else but themselves.
“When we talk about the topic of being Asian female-centric, that is a bigger question. But one thing that I will say is that we always need more films with strong Asian female leads. I guess Quiz Lady is one of these, but it is more than just showing the cosmetics – it is about the lives of Asian American women and their own individual Asian American experiences. This is what defines them as characters and what defines them as women”, Yu stated.
Finally, Yu shared how she personally related to the characters and storyline behind Quiz Lady and how that impacted how she directed the film. She discussed how being Asian, the ethos is all about winning, coming first and being competitive, but the forgotten part in this ethos is that it is okay to fail or come in last because it is all about perseverance and determination, not necessarily the outcome. She hopes audiences see this reflected in the film as it is indirectly about failure and loss, but it is also about overcoming it all.
“My entire life growing up the question of winning and coming first was always important. I wanted to show the pressures behind this and show that it is okay to lose because the more important part of winning or losing is the process and the outcome shouldn’t really matter. We all face competitive situations and it is important for Asian American audiences to understand how to make a competitive situation positive and not always focus on the negative situation at hand”.
Quiz Lady will be released on the Hulu streaming platform on November 3rd, 2023. It was initially released on September 9, 2023 at the Toronto International Film Festival.
Happy Lunar New Year! Time is running out to support our Lunar New Year Fundraising Drive through this link. The campaign ends Sunday. AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.