Go Back to China Review

At her sixth interview, the interviewer asks Sasha in a slightly snarky way “How do you expect to get experience?” Sasha’s responds in a pleading and confused manner: “…By getting a job?”

This interaction is a perfect snapshot of Sasha Li’s issues in writer/director Emily Ting’s film Go Back To China. While many other millennials can relate to that chicken-or-the-egg scenario of employment, Sasha is in a position of privilege by having her dad’s money to fall back on. Once that security blanket is taken away, we begin a story that’s endearing, personal, and dramatic.

Sasha Li (Anna Akana) is a 20-something second generation Chinese immigrant who graduated from Fashion School a year ago. While looking for a job, she’s been supported by her estranged father (Richard Ng), the owner of a toy factory in Shenzhen, China. Her dad wants her to work at the family factory, going through the extreme length of cutting off Sasha and her mother to coerce her. Evicted and with no income, Sasha goes to Shenzhen to confront her father, her half siblings, and her father’s new young girlfriend – against her own desire.

Akana makes for an endearing protagonist, playing the role of Sasha in an earnest way, though her interpretation has an exaggerated flair of an older millennial. Sasha is, in many ways, extremely spoiled but at least she has talent to back it up. Where the film is the strongest is her interactions between her half-sister Carol (Lynn Chen) concerning her father. At the core of their interpersonal relationships is bitterness in some form. Carol is bitter about Sasha’s young freedom while being forced to work at the toy factory for 10tenyears. Sasha is of course bitter about being financially threatened in order to come back to China. And their father is bitter about the responsibility of providing for their family. That bitterness makes for conversations and secrets that makes waves in the film.

Of course, there are missed opportunity to enhance the story. The third act, which finds Sasha returning to LA from Shenzhen, is the weakest of the film. How a toy recall is handled happens in the most ridiculous way, and in a manner that feels like another over-exaggeration of millennials and how they operate. To be fair, in the world where we’ve had two documentaries about the Fyre Festival and how much power influencers can have, one can argue that this isn’t far-fetched. But it does feel like a magical solution to help wrap up the film instead of a realistic solution.

Still, Go Back To China is an enjoyable watch. With a simple, but effective, script from Ting, it’s a character-driven film and those characters work. More importantly, it’s refreshing to see more Asian-led (in front and behind the camera) films get their shine at film festivals this year. From Minhal Baig’s Hala to Lulu Wang’s The Farewell to Justin Chon’s Ms. Purple, it’s clear there are so many stories to tell. And we’ve just scratched the surface.

/Film Rating: 7.5 out of 10

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About the Author

Joi Childs is a Brand Marketer, sarcasm enthusiast and film critic. You can find her on Twitter (@jumpedforjoi) tweeting about the intersection of marketing, nerd, and tech.