Who to Watch: Adele Lim, Director of ‘Joy Ride’

The longtime screenwriter is making her directorial debut with 'Joy Ride', building on a career that includes everything from 'Xena: Warrior Princess' to 'Crazy Rich Asians'.

Sherry Cola, Adele Lim and Ashley Park attend the Joy Ride premiere at the Regency Village Theatre Westwood in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Araya Doheny/Getty Images for Lionsgate

Aside from a few standouts, the world of R-rated comedy has been dominated by white men. Bridesmaids proved that women could be funny and sell tickets (was there ever any doubt?), and now, over a decade later, Adele Lim’s Joy Ride is seeking to do the same for Asian women. Lim is best known for her work as a writer, from dozens of TV jobs to Crazy Rich Asians, but she’s taking her talents to the director’s chair. No matter which role she’s occupying, she’s one to watch.

Mastering the TV writers’ room

Lim’s career in the entertainment industry began at the turn of the century, when she served as a script coordinator for an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess. According to an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, she found the job thanks to an ad in a magazine she was flipping through at a Barnes & Noble (she couldn’t afford to buy the trades, so she skimmed them instead). From there, Lim deftly navigated the broadcast seas, jumping from NBC to the CW (with the hit show One Tree Hill) to ABC (spending some time in Shondaland with Private Practice).

Adele Lim attends the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX. Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

Crazy Rich Asians and mainstream success

Though a consistent contributor in writers’ rooms across Hollywood, Adele Lim had never written for film until Crazy Rich Asians. The project had been bopping around in pre-production for several years by the time that director John M. Chu asked her to join the writing team. At that point, a draft by Peter Chiarelli (writer of The Proposal) was complete, but it lacked a degree of cultural authenticity and a certain deft touch when it came to women’s relationships with one another; Chu figured Lim was the perfect candidate to help. She ended up contributing a whole new third act, complete with that memorable mahjong faceoff between Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh.

Suffice it to say, Crazy Rich Asians was a massive hit—and ripe for sequels. But Lim wouldn’t be part of them. According to a 2019 report, figures for the next movie were coming in, and they reflected a notable pay gap between her and co-writer Chiarelli. While Warner Bros. offered Chiarelli anywhere from $800,000 to $1 million, Lim’s offer hovered around $110,000. The studio claimed it was about their differences in experience, but the disparity (and its racial and gender undertones) was too great for Lim. Responding to the report, she said, “Being evaluated that way can’t help but make you feel that is how they view my contributions,” going on to say that they viewed her work on the film as “soy sauce”—a way to finish off the screenplay with some cultural flavor, rather than a substantial part of the story. She left the project early in the development process, going on to pen the screenplay for Disney’s Oscar-nominated animated feature, Raya and the Last Dragon.

A delightfully dirty directorial debut

Joy Ride, which premiered earlier this year at South by Southwest and comes to theaters this week, has been hailed as Lim’s “filthy breakthrough” and a “raunchy and propulsive feature directorial debut.” The film stars Ashley Park as a lawyer hoping to rise in the ranks of her firm, so she ventures to China in the hopes of securing a deal with a Chinese businessman. But that’s not all—her childhood best friend (Sherry Cola) and old roommate (Stephanie Hsu) tag along to help translate, convincing her to search for her birth mother on the trip. Though it sounds like a wholesome journey, Joy Ride is more Bridesmaids and Girls Trip than it is The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.

Adele Lim built a career around of her screenwriting talents, making this movie an interesting departure. She only has a story credit for the film, while the script comes from veteran TV writers Cherry Chevapravatdumrong and Teresa Hsiao. She’s taken a seat in the director’s chair for the first time, to a very successful result. Joy Ride tackles its comedy “with disarming energy and verve,” as well as “a level of savvy about Asian culture that we still rarely see in Hollywood movies.” Lim wants the movie to serve not only as an example of a “strong female gaze,” but of a novel “strong Asian female gaze.” Though this film is her first foray into directing (and into R-rated content), she’s been true to that vision. Moviegoers can expect her to stick with it, and they should be excited to see what comes next.

Who to Watch: Adele Lim, Director of ‘Joy Ride’