This lighthearted semi-autobiographical family comedy follows Sasha (Anna Akana), a young Chinese-American Fashion Studies graduate whose carefree and irresponsible life living off the money provided by her estranged father Teddy (Richard Ng) abruptly comes to an end when Teddy cuts off access to her trust fund. In order for Sasha to regain access to her trust fund, she must travel to Shenzhen, China and work in Teddy’s toy factory. However, once Sasha is in China, she realises that she isn’t the only one who has to learn some valuable lessons.
The film begins promisingly, with writer-director Ting effectively establishing the contrast between Sasha’s party animal lifestyle in Los Angeles and her initial experiences working on the assembly line at the factory. Ting also uses the character of Teddy to highlight the increasing wealth of Chinese businessmen in an affectionately humorous manner through showing the character’s nouveau riche tendencies – he lives in an opulent mansion and his youngest children are called ‘Christian’ and ‘Dior’.
In addition, the performances are all of a high standard, with Akana and Hong Kong comedy veteran Ng convincingly depicting their initial characterisations of spoiled daughter and strict, hardworking businessman as well as later developments that reveal hidden depths to both characters. Lynn Chen also impresses as Sasha’s older sister Carol, particularly in a later scene, where she switches from acquiescing to her family to revealing her true feelings.
However, Ting’s script falls flat when it comes to providing any real depth and drama to the familial relationships and to Sasha’s attempts to improve the production quality and culture of her father’s factory. Whilst Teddy’s numerous faults, including having multiple affairs and neglecting his children, are brought up by Sasha and Carol, no real attempt is made to confront him and take him to task, as would be expected. Instead, the daughters lightly reprimand him and any conflict is swiftly resolved with a cheap and overused message of spending more time with your family.
Similarly, Sasha’s attempts at improving the family’s upcoming line of Christmas toys as well as conditions for the factory workers would have been effective had there been a real sense of conflict, showing the Westernised daughter butting heads with her traditionalist father whilst also raising the stakes regarding their relationship. However, any threat of actual tension is quickly dispelled by Teddy not only accepting Sasha’s changes relatively quickly, but also in the awkwardly-written ways in which the workers go out of their way to praise Teddy for providing for their families, a sentiment which is also shared by Teddy’s young girlfriend that quickly dispels any misgivings that Sasha had about their relationship.
As a result, Go Back To China ultimately comes across as surprisingly conflict-free given its premise and appears to waste not only more interesting narrative threads, but also the performances of its talented cast.
International Premiere screening at Vue Omni Centre Wed 26 June 2019