The First Asian-Australian Rom-Com Will Debut at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival

Facebook / Rhapsody of Love

Joy Hopwood almost quit filmmaking.

Then, when her first directed feature, The Script of Life, won at the Amsterdam Film Festival for Best Drama in 2018, she knew that she must continue on this path.

And we’re so glad she did.

Taking part in the Melbourne Women in Film Festival this year, Joy’s film Rhapsody of Love will be one of the main events. It’s a film that follows the lives of four couples at different stages of their relationships and how sometimes life presents love when we least expect it.

It’s also the first Asian-Australian romantic comedy to ever hit the screens.

“I remember talking to the lead actress (in Rhapsody of Love) Kathy Luu one day in the car, about an idea I’d had,” Joy tells Thrillist Australia, “I told her I’d love to cast her in a film with another Asian lead, a male, and tell a story of romance.”

“She said to me: “you know we’d be making the first Asian-Australian romantic-comedy, right?” and I just knew in that moment, that I had to do it. I was going to make this happen.”

To think that the Asian population in Australia is so high, yet there have been no films or TV shows that portray the everyday lives of Asian-Australians just goes to show the previous lack of diversity when it comes to representation on-screen.

So often, when we see Asians cast in a film, they’re typecast, they’re a stereotyped version of themselves—the view of an outsider looking in and culturally stereotyping them based on the, quite frankly, racist generalisations of the Asian culture.

“All of my work is based is on my real life experiences,” Joy says, “and I think that this authentic line of storytelling is where we need to head, if we want to tell honest and diverse stories.”

Instagram / @joyhouseproductions

“For people to feel properly represented, they need to relate to the material, and authentic material is undoubtedly easier to relate to because if it’s happened to you—it’s probably happened to someone else.”

Although debuting in Victoria for the first time at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival, Joy has already seen positive reactions to Rhapsody of Love, having been selected by the Gold Coast Film Festival last year, and streaming in the US already.

“It was great that everyone was so enthusiastic and supportive of this film at the Gold Coast Film Festival, because we weren’t sure how Australian audiences would react.”

Instagram / @rhapsodyoflovemovie

After all, we’ve never seen Asian-Australians in a romantic comedy in Australia. Ever. (I’m still struggling to wrap my head around this).

“People stayed after the film, for like an hour, and there was this energy of elation. People were telling us that it’s a feel-good film, and that just made us feel like we belong.

“This is the first time that Australians are seeing Asian-Australians being celebrated on screen, without stereotyping them and their culture. The audience was diverse, and so receptive to it, which just felt like such nice validation and a clear sign that our society is moving in the right direction.”

In a still very male-dominant industry, Joy strongly believes that it’s important to support other women, especially when it comes to independent filmmaking.

“The Melbourne Women in Film Festival is so wonderful, for the way that it embraces and celebrates women.

“We don’t have enough of these environments in the Australian industry and they’re so important for creating change.”

“It’s so important to know that you have people that believe in you and are there to celebrate and support you. For me, it’s my producer Anna Tiwary. To have another person — even just one! — who believes in you, is vital.”

As for the theme this year, the MWFF has chosen “Laugh Louder”, which really could come at a more poignant time, with the collective state of mental exhaustion we’re all in after two years living with a pandemic.

“During these covid times, we need comedy. To have inserts of comedy —slapstick moments — in this film, really breaks it up and gives audiences a moment to laugh and feel light-hearted.

“Many of these are real-life moments, things that have happened throughout my life. They weren’t always funny in the moment, but things change with perspective and it can actually be really therapeutic.”

As for her advice to young, diverse and upcoming filmmakers, Joy says that “if there’s a will, there’s a way”.

“Write all these moments in your life down. The funny, the sad, the moments of darkness and joy. There’s a lesson in everything that happens in our lives, and those lessons, can create great films.”

To find out more about Joy’s work, head to her website.

If you’re keen to catch her film, Rhapsody of Love, at the Melbourne Women in Film Festival, you can keep your eye out to buy tickets here (from Jan 14) .

You can find the full MWFF program here.

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