Actresses Anna Akana and Lynn Chen are exploring wild cultural conflicts in their new drama film Go Back to China. 

The actresses spoke to uInterview exclusively about the movie at the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas. Go Back to China, which was written and directed by Emily Ting, centers on a spoiled Asian-American rich girl named Sasha Li who is forced to work at her family’s toy business in China after her father reprimands her for blowing through most of her trust fund. The film follows last year’s Crazy Rich Asians as another major English-language film that includes a full or mostly-Asian cast.

“I play Sasha Li, who is sort of an L.A. fashionista, doesn’t really have a job — yet [who is] seeking employment — whose father tells her that she’s going to be cut off from her
allowance and inheritance, although she returns to China and works in the family toy
factory,” Akana explained. “I have to spend about a year there with my half-sister Carol, played by the lovely Lynn Chen, and I must learn how to reconnect with my narcissistic abusive father
and also realize that hard work is very hard.”

Chen said Akana “nailed” her performance, something that made her co-star laugh.

“All I do when I’m in China is show her the ropes,” Chen said. “I try to ease her into it, knowing full well that she’s a bit of a fish out of water but we do a little bit of bonding,” she added, saying she wanted to stop there so as to avoid spoiling any plot points.

Chen revealed that all of the scenes that involved food were her favorite to film.

“I was actually just talking about how that lobster, we only
had one and Emily, our director, kept saying, ‘You can eat everything else! You can eat this, this, this, this [but] nobody touch the lobster,'” Chen said.

Akana said she was vegan when they were filming so she was limited in terms of what foods she could eat.

“My favorite scenes were all the ones where I got to eat raspberries,” Akana admitted. “I love eating in scenes, I’m such a snacker and because of my diet they were just like, ‘ok you tell us what you can eat in this film.'”

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Akana said she believes the message of the film is that “family dysfunction is all across the board and that it’s very hard for intergenerational children — especially children of immigrants — to understand culturally and even mentally where their parents are coming from.”

“But [parents] do have good intentions, and their idea of being a provider might be vastly different from what we think is appropriate,” she added.

Chen expanded on Akana’s point by saying she thinks the film shows how difficult it can be to “try to figure out who you are” in the face of strict rules and expectations set by one’s parents.

Full interview transcript below:

Q: Who are you characters in the film?

A: Akana: I play Sasha Li, who is sort of an LA fashionista, doesn’t really have a job, yet seeking employment, whose father tells her that she’s going to be cut off from her allowance and inheritance, although she returns to China and works in the family toy factory. I have to spend about a year there with my half-sister Carol, played by the lovely Lynn Chen, and I must learn how to reconnect with my narcissistic abusive father and also realize that hard work is very hard.

Chen: I think she pretty much just nailed it, all I do when I’m in China is show her the ropes, try to ease her into it knowing full well that she’s a bit of a fish out of water, but we do a little bit of bonding and that’s all I’m going to tell you because there’s other parts of the movie that you have to see.

Q: What were your favorite scenes?

A: Chen: I loved all the food scenes, I was actually just talking about how that lobster, we only had one and Emily our director kept saying ‘you can eat everything else! You can eat this, this, this, this, this: nobody touch the lobster.’ And… did you have [the lobster]? No, you didn’t have [it], you’re vegan, she was vegan when we were filming so you did not have any lobster.

Akana: My favorite scene was all the ones where I got to eat raspberries. I loved eating in scenes, I’m such a snacker and because of my diet, they were like ‘okay just you tell us what you can eat in this film.’ So there’s like three or four scenes where I’m just straight up eating raspberries the entire time.

Chen: There was one day when we were filming in that gin bar in Hong Kong and they gave us like nuts to eat which is what you would eat in a bar and everyone’s like ‘too loud too loud’ so Anna was like ‘are there raspberries on set’ and then we ended up eating raspberries, which doesn’t makes really really make sense for a bar, but yeah I mean nobody could really see, it’s just this action, raspberries are the perfect scene food basically.

Q: What’s the message of the film?

A: Akana: ​I would say the message of the film is family dysfunction is all across the board and that it’s very hard for intergenerational children, especially children of immigrants to sort of understand culturally and even mentally where their parents are coming from, but that they do have good intentions and their idea of being a provider and a father or a mother might be vastly different than what we think is appropriate and so I hope people walk away from the film really maybe seeing their own family’s dysfunction portrayed in some way.

Chen: When we are looking at ourselves through our parents eyes, there’s one way of looking at things, but to come up and try to figure out who you are in the face of that is really difficult and I think that is something that Emily really captures in a beautiful and very humorous way, it makes us feel like a little less alone in our struggles with the dysfunction that we all have with our families and we all have them in a way that’s like ‘huh, hey you know what maybe I can laugh at this a little bit.’