Anna Akana and Lynn Chen manufacture joy in ‘Go Back to China’

Brooke Sjoberg

Emily Ting’s semi-autobiographical film “Go Back to China” is a smart comedy that tackles, with a dry wit, real issues of factory labor in China and the difficulty of finding a job in America. Anna Akana and Lynn Chen’s standout performances as Sasha and Carol in addition to the nature of the film make this a true standout at SXSW.

In “Go Back to China,” trust fund baby and party girl Sasha receives an ultimatum: Come back to work at the family toy factory in Shenzhen, or find a job after having gotten no postgraduate experience a year after graduating from fashion school. As she learns the requirements of her new job from her older sister Carol, Sasha learns valuable lessons about differences between labor in China and America, as well as how to work for what she has.

The greatest assets to the film are Akana and Chen’s performances. They have great onscreen chemistry as sisters, and their portrayals of the characters’ relationship feel organic to the story. Akana is an excellent younger, spoiled sister to Chen, who carries the wisdom of an older sister who has been around long enough to learn the ropes of working with their difficult father (Richard Ng).

Ting has taken on an intimidating task by addressing the differences between American and Chinese labor systems, but she does so smartly. Sasha (Akana) is a well-meaning conduit of all things American. Her exploration, through her father’s toy factory, of the problems the laborers are facing is an honest wakeup call for anyone who is unfamiliar with the differences between the work worlds.

The emphasis on previous work experience in the American job market is not left out of “Go Back to China,” either. The film opens on a job interview where Sasha is told that her lack of experience makes her an undesirable candidate for the position. Her talent alone does not substitute the internships and other entry-level work her competitors have done, which is usually unpaid or for little pay. As a college student, this predicament is extremely relatable and lends to the impact of the film.

As a critique of Chinese labor regulations, “Go Back to China” is an honest look at what one man’s success costs in terms of other people’s sacrifices. In the film, the factory laborers get paid around US$15 a day and only see their families during Chinese New Year. In order for a business, such as the toy factory of Sasha’s father, to remain successful with such strong competition from other countries, it makes the first cuts at the employees.

Applied to the American job market, the film remains just as impactful. Competition for the few well-paying jobs and internships available to students while in school or immediately after graduating is demoralizing. Just as Sasha had to do, graduates often need to find jobs outside their field of study to make a living wage or to find a job at all.

“Go Back to China” is funny enough to draw in an audience and smart enough to teach them something while they’re there.

“Go Back to China”

Score: 5/5