They say to write what you know. The same thing can be said of films. You can always tell when a director is familiar or at least comfortable with the subject matter of their film. Here director and screenwriter Emily Ting (Already Tomorrow in Hong Kong, Family Inc.) has made a semi-autobiographical film about a spoiled girl who is forced by her estranged father to return to China to work in the family toy factory. It is based on her life. What she knows. Her family actually owns a toy factory.
After her mother and father divorce, Sasha Li (Anna Akana – from television’s A Million Little Things) and her mom (Kelly Hu – The Scorpion King, X-Men 2) move to Los Angeles. There Sasha gets a degree in fashion design, but is rather lax when it comes to money and getting a job. Basically a spoiled brat. She survives on her trust fund set up by her wealthy father (Richard Ng – Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life). When he cuts her and her mother off in an effort to force Sasha to come back to China to work at his toy factory, she is left without money or a choice.
Hating everything about living in China and working in the factory initially, Sasha soon begins to find her groove and even begins designing toys. She even begins to reconnect with her half-sister Carol (Lynn Chen – Saving Face) and begins to appreciate working hard at something you like.
Just when you think that things are going to go well between Sasha, her father and her family and she is going to work at something she truly likes family dynamics rears its ugly head.
Several films of late have featured young Chinese-Americans getting back in touch with their roots. Returning to China, initially feeling like a fish out of water and then reconnecting. It is great that some stories of the Chinese and Chinese American experience are making their way on to the big screen. Long past due. We all need to see ourselves and our lives represented in film.
Almost all that goes on here is predictable and yet the film is entertaining. There are comedic moments, a solid performance by the lead actress and a heartwarming family story.
More than that it illuminates some of the social policies (one child per family) and cultural norms of China. Family pressures. Labour conditions. All very different from this part of the world. Begin to see the complex balancing act between public/family expectations and what goes on behind the scenes. Some will really connect while others will see it as eye opening.
Despite these differences we see that families are largely the same no matter what part of the world they live in. The differences between generations and their world views. How as we age we have to deal with our family dynamics and realize that no matter how tough things get that it is family which truly matters.