Once you’ve seen it, you can never unsee it. That is, the tattoo that Stephanie Hsu’s character has on a very intimate part of her body in Adele Lim’s rollicking new comedy Joy Ride.
The movie follows Ashley Park as Audrey, an Asian American who was adopted by white parents and decides to take a trip to China to find her birth mother. She’s accompanied by Hsu as Kat, a successful actress and total drama queen; Sherry Cola as Audrey’s best friend Lolo, and Sabrina Wu as Lolo’s cousin, Deadeye.
Lim, who co-wrote the screenplay for Crazy Rich Asians, makes her directorial debut with Joy Ride, which is produced by Seth Rogen.
If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll no doubt have the image of Kat’s — ahem — vagina tattoo seared into your brain. If you haven’t, stop reading right here, because spoilers are ahead.
At first, Kat tries to downplay the vag tat as just a tiny little flower on her inner thigh. But it’s soon revealed that Kat was telling more than just a little white lie to her fiancé Clarence (Desmond Chiam) with her bluff. The tattoo is actually of a bright red devil with horns and all — and yes, it’s exactly where you think it is.
We asked Hsu to give us all the nasty details about what went into the creation of that brave vagina tattoo scene, and she graciously told us all about it in the below Q&A. Don’t worry — we also discussed more normal things, like how she and Sabrina Wu, who plays Deadeye, improvised that other scene where she hides a condom full of cocaine in her butthole.
A Joy Ride Q&A With Stephanie Hsu
MovieMaker: What was your first reaction to the concept of the vagina tattoo? Was it in the original script?
Stephanie Hsu: It was! I guess I just thought, ‘Oh yeah, well, of course.’ I just thought this assignment is a rated-R movie. I didn’t do all the math in my head of how we were going to execute that. P.S. — it’s a body double.
Maybe I just blacked out and had an out-of-body experience and thought, ‘Oh, sure, that’s on the page, but that won’t stay.’ What I do love about the assignment of the film is that the film is meant to be really sex-positive, body-positive, just raunch-positive, and subvert all the tropes that have ever been placed upon us.
We really crafted that moment. The creative team invited me into the editing suite to figure out that scene, because the first cut, I did not feel super comfortable with it, and I felt like the butt of the joke as opposed to something that was shock value that actually still celebrated the tone of the film. And when I vocalize that, the whole team was really open to being like, ‘Okay, let’s collaborate on this to make it work and to make you feel really great about it.’
The thing that was most important for me was that it was really funny, and that it wasn’t shock value just for shock’s sake, but that it was still forwarding the story in a way that made you want to root for that character — but also, like, disgusting.
MM: Tell me more about how you executed that scene. You said you used a body double for the nude part?
SH: It was a body double and an insert shot, and our incredible makeup VFX artists, and a really, really courageous woman who is in real life very body positive, very comfortable with all parts of her body. So that was really inspiring, to meet a body double who was like, ‘Yeah, I’m down.’ As opposed to a wholesome actress who’s like, ‘No, no, it’s shan’t be me!’ [laughs].
MM: Okay, so now we have to talk about that scene where a condom full of cocaine explodes in your butthole. I know that you got to act out a lot of hilarious and zany things in Everything Everywhere All At Once, but was this even zanier, in a way?
SH: I think this one is more unhinged, you know? The objective is story, but it’s also to make it as funny and ridiculous as possible. I think with Everything Everywhere, it was toeing the line a little bit more in making sure that there’s a huge philosophical, existential, and emotional element to it that needs to be protected.
This one is like — literally, when we were doing the drug scene in the train, I whispered to Sabrina [Wu], I was like, ‘Hey, do you want to stick the coke up my dress and up my butt?’ And they were like, ‘Yeah, that sounds great.’ So we were like, ‘Okay, great.’ And then the camera person was like, ‘Yeah, yeah, oh God, that’s really funny! Let’s make it work!’ So that was a different vibe [from EEAAO].
MM: Was it creatively freeing to do a movie with this style of comedy?
SH: Absolutely. I’ve always had a huge potty mouth and I was very funny and class clown-y, and people would always say, ‘Oh, you should do stand up when you grow up, or you should work with Seth Rogen when you we moved to New York City.’ And I never thought that the way that I would work with Seth would be in this context with his company and the four of us as leads.
When I was in college, I was in a sketch group, and Bowen Yang was in the improv group and we were doing comedy together. I honestly decided not to pursue comedy because I did feel more invested in whole stories, and the comedy scene is so cutthroat. But also at the time, I didn’t really feel like I understood my own sense of humor within that space. A lot of the pop culture references that were very specific to the UCBs of the world just didn’t resonate with me.
We just had a screening [of Joy Ride] at CAAMFest in San Francisco and it was mostly an Asian American audience, and people were just scream-laughing at these jokes that are so culturally specific that if you know, you know. We just didn’t have something like that when I was coming up. So it felt incredibly cathartic. It feels amazing to make fun of ourselves.
Joy Ride is now playing in theaters.
Main Image: Stephanie Hsu as Kat, Sabrina Wu as Deadeye, Ashley Park as Audrey, and Sherry Cola as Lolo in Joy Ride. Photo Credit: Ed Araquel/Lionsgate