This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
maddie’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
There's an interesting line that I missed the first time I watched this film due to the lack of subtitles. The first time they describe Deirdre, the IRS agent, Evelyn says that "she keeps targeting the Chinese in the community." This line is echoed in the 2017 draft as well as the main character notes "they are targeting immigrants". Both times this appears to be said as a way to show that people may form prejudices against someone prematurely, as the IRS agent is portrayed rather generously. Frankly, this is the white perspective on racism, that many people are quickly misnamed as being racist by the paranoid marginalized groups. The idea that racism even exists against Asian Americans has only appeared to reach the mainstream topic recently when most people of this group would know that it has always existed, both under the guise of model minority and otherwise.
In my previous review, I noted that there was nothing ‘asian’ about this film. Yet while I said that, it was difficult to reconcile that notion with the obvious stereotypes that existed in this film. The backdrop of time being Chinese New Year, the inclusion of martial arts, the family having a small business, specifically a laundromat. The inclusion of these concepts does not immediately mean that the movie portrays Asian Americans in a negative light. The issue is that that’s it. There is no further examination of the difficulties of being Asian, the difficulties of having two different identities. Does an Asian American film simply mean seeing the characters interchangeably talk in their native language and English? Surely there's more.
(Technically we see Joy try to come out to her grandfather in Chinese despite her limited vocabulary, but the focus there is not her loose connection with that culture, but the fact that her mother cuts her off. It’s yet another ‘America is progressive!!’ thing where the more Americanized person is accepting of progressive ideas and the Asian parent is not. Tired of it.)
In general, the character Joy seems underutilized despite the numerous costume changes and fun scenes. It's never fully explained why she became the villain besides the idea that her mom sucks and vague nihilism in general. The former appears to be easily solved as Evelyn reaffirms that she does indeed love her daughter. The latter however… is somewhat clumsily done. The saccharine conclusion is that it's love that saves all. Although this specific conclusion is not a surprise, it still appears sort of fake. In this world of disaster, with global warming, and shootings at least once a week, with marginalized groups not even being accepted, with systems of oppression being baked in the country people grow up in, the answer is kindness? Such an obvious trope although let's be real it's what everyone predicted.
I do still think I enjoy the film due to my appreciation of multiverse (although the humor hit way worse on a rewatch) and perhaps the nihilism it brings (it satisfied a part of me but not all of me!) but I definitely did not enjoy the reductive and purely aesthetic nature of its portrayal of asianness.
# woke representation is the new thing right now but it can only be rendered to aesthetic usage or downright traumatic as it still takes on a very Western perspective rather than being real or genuine in any way. if you liked this movie then good for you – the visuals and soundtrack are still very nice – but i suppose i personally want more asian american movies to break this affixed mold and im tired of seeing the same thing over and over.
(*I recommend reading the reviews I liked for this movie as they feature a lot of good points & thoughts)