An ensemble comedy is never complete without fully-realized costume designing. The best of the best always make each character distinct yet a part of a whole. It’s a tricky balance costume designer Beverley Huynh pulls off with director Adele Lim‘s Joy Ride.
The kind-hearted and raunchy comedy tells the story of a group of friends – played by Sabrina Wu, Ashley Park, Sherry Cola, and Stephanie Hsu – traveling to China and beyond and experiencing drug trips, reflections, and epiphanies.
It’s a rare lavish comedy with vibrancy and scope. For Huynh, she got to bring a variety of cultures and color patterns to life. On the big screen, the characters pop, especially in an unforgettable K-pop sequence.
For Huynh, who previously worked on The Perfection and SYFY’s Van Helsing, Joy Ride was more than a job. It was, as the title of this interview not so subtlety exclaims, a reawakening. Recently, and just barely prior to the SAG strike, Huynh discussed with Below-the-Line her professional and personal experience making Joy Ride.
[Note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length]
Below-The-Line: I always like to start by asking, what are you working on at the moment?
Beverley Huynh: At the moment I’m in solidarity with the WGA and with SAG, so because of their strikes and what they’re going through, our work is on hold in Vancouver as well, so at the moment, I’m not doing anything except for focusing on my [upcoming] wedding, but I did just finish an independent film with a group from Malaysia and from LA. We just did a rom-com with King Street Pictures that is also API focused as well, so we just finished that in June.
BTL: Congratulations, and good on you for standing with the WGA.
Huynh: Yes, it’s a big deal. It starts with their stories and it starts with their scripts and with all this stuff looming over with AI and all the technology that comes with it, we got to have a voice together to show that our voices matter too. It starts with their scripts, so I wouldn’t be working if it wasn’t for them.
BTL: So, based on your other interviews for Joy Ride, it’s clear you got to fulfill a creative fantasy with the K-pop sequence. Which ideas did you have for years you finally got to bring to life with that sequence?
Huynh: I think it’s just the fantastical nature that comes with K-pop, honestly. I discovered K-pop probably 10 years ago, and it was not a culture that I was privy to, I didn’t even know existed. I’m from Calgary, Alberta, which is like the Texas of Canada. It wasn’t a culture that I was exposed to, so for me, being in a place when I moved to Vancouver when I was introduced to it, it was very eye opening and it kind of gave a validation in terms of Asian culture that could be considered cool and not some stereotyped way of thinking.
I didn’t know that Asian culture was so hyped up on brand names and designer names and all this other stuff, so when I was introduced to Girls’ Generation 10 years ago, I was just in awe of the fashion and the production value that came with how much investment did they put into the production value in K-pop stars. Their music videos are just off the hook. I thought they were better than American music videos, so when I was watching those, I was like, “Oh my gosh, anything I can do to just be a part of anything that looks like that I want to be a part of.”
There was a time in my life where I was looking at ways where I could market myself and introduce myself to people so I could move to Korea and or even just go to Korea and do some K-pop videos, and make the hookups that I possibly could make with designer brands and be able to have the sponsorship to do those sort of things.
BTL: You started off in fashion, right?
Huynh: Yes. K-pop for this one, it just came in a different way with costume designing. I realized in the end when I got into costume design that I had a little bit more flexibility than I wouldn’t have if I were involved with fashion. I preferred storytelling with costume design, and this was part of me fulfilling a dream that I had 10 years ago in a different facet. I’m so lucky that it did because I always seem to be in the right place at the right time when it comes to my projects, and this was definitely one of them. Girls’ Generation and BLACKPINK were the big biggest influences for our Brownie Tuesday group.
BTL: Given your love for K-pop music, how’d that influence your choices for which character would gravitate toward a specific aesthetic or trend?
Huynh: Well, we really kept in tune with each of our characters. With Deadeye (Sabrina Wu), we kind of kept it with an androgynous view, while Lolo (Sherry Cola) is that artistic but sex-positive type view. I think I found an iridescent kind of harness for her that was really awesome. Audrey (Ashley Park), she had a little leatherette beret, well-fitted things, and a fun pleated skirt, kind of keeping in tune that corporate private school feel. Then for Kat (Stephanie Hsu), it was just showing off her figure and waistline. Steph has incredible legs, so we really wanted to show off her in a miniskirt and also show the drama of Kat’s character.
When you look at K-pop stars, each person is a character, so one’s the lead singer, one’s the rapper, and one’s a “tomboy.” There’s always a character to each K-pop group, and that’s kind of the field that I wanted for Brownie Tuesday as well, in that one’s the leader, one’s the rapper, and one’s the beatboxer. Everybody has their role within the group, so I really tried to sell that story with their clothing. I hope that plays through.
BTL: Since Kat is an actor and probably wears specific brands, how’d your fashion background help you decide on her style?
Huynh: When we first got to Kat, my vision for her was this Shanghainese, Chinese-like superstar. If you look at a lot of cultural references for them, there’s a very sophisticated look to them as well, and there’s a certain aesthetic and tailored look to all Shanghainese, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Chinese stars. When we got Kat in the room, I had to remember that she has an American influence as well.
We really tried to bring in as many brands that would be of interest, but she’s in between the class of, she thinks that she’s a superstar, but only in certain circles, so she’s not making the money that you would be making to have all the sponsorships that she would have. She’s like, “I’m going to dress the way that I think I should dress, to be the person that I perceive myself to be without all the labels, but I’m only going to afford the things that I can actually afford.”
For a lot of people, it’s like, “Oh, I want to wear labels, but I can only afford certain things like a belt or sunglasses or a purse,” but they can’t get the whole outfit, which is how we went with Kat. That was partially due to the story, but that was also partially due to our tight constraints on our actual physical budget in the costume department.
BTL: Kat rocks a very cool costume in the club sequence. You have so many extras there. How’d you want to help create an authentic club experience? For example, what’s trendy and what would everyone be wearing?
Huynh: Well, we’re in China and Shanghai has amazing fashion. These are people who take strong influence from European fashion and they just have a language of their own, something that I had so much fun diving deep into. I had just come back from a trip, actually, when I got put onto this project from Shanghai, and I really got to see a lot of great street fashion.
The wonderful thing about Asian culture, as well, is that because they’re an androgynous frame, so a lot of people can just pull off just about anything. They can wear super baggy, oversized, they have the luxury of being experimental with the architecture of their clothing. Nothing has to be super tailored. Nothing has to be clinging to the body. There’s room there for experimentation.
When I did that background sequences, I just took so much influence from street fashion, from Shanghai and from Saigon and Hong Kong. You can see graphics and accessories, and you have the goth types, and you have people who are just taking influence from just about anywhere, and they have amazing designers who take influence from old Hong Kong movies and different silhouettes of kimonos, robes, linens, and fabrics. They just have all this beautiful access and excess to play around with that stuff.
If you ever look at any fashion weeks like Saigon Fashion Week, man, it is off the hook. Forget New York Fashion Week. Look at Saigon Fashion Week. Their stuff is so cool and so intriguing. You’ve never seen anything like it before. For me, that’s way more exciting; it’s so exciting to see and be able to pull those ideas and pull those influences into the club scene.
BTL: I recently talked to [the composer] Nathan for Joy Ride, and we both talked about how Joy Ride is not a conventional comedy, in that you get to play on a big canvas. As a costume designer, you must’ve felt similarly, right?
Huynh: Yeah, because we were able to go to so many different locations. Fun fact: this entire movie was shot in Vancouver. The fact that we were able to, in the script, go to Korea, go to China, go to all these places, it really allowed me to dive into areas and cultures that one, I never had experienced, but two, it just let me dive into a deeper world and be able to look into things that I, otherwise, probably wouldn’t research myself. Being able to go to all these different locations, it’s fun and it’s freeing, because I’m in a position where I can express myself freely in a way that Adele, Teresa [Hsiao], and Cherry [Chevapravatdumrong] really put a lot of faith in me to do.
In Vancouver, we’re really known for a lot of cop shows and all the serious shows. Because we have overcast here all the time, our palettes are usually quite restricted to a very cool palette. This one was just warm and fun and active. It was an opportunity for me to play around with textiles, but also with patterns, which is maximalism at its best. To me, that is the best gift you can give a creative person: let them run free and you can rein them in. Ultimately, that trust was there to just have a good time and make it what it is what you see now.
BTL: Obviously, you learn on every job, but with all the cultures and you researched here, a lot was new for you. What would you say you learned from Joy Ride you’ll carry with you on future gigs?
Huynh: Thank you for asking that. I think one thing I really fell in love with the script was I saw a little bit of myself in each of the friends that were represented in this story. One, I got to express myself that way. Two, like I said before, I dived into different cultures that I never knew existed in a way that I’m ashamed to admit; I’m very much immersed in Western culture.
This allowed me to explore my Southeast Asian culture more so than I ever would have thought possible in this day and age. For me, the biggest lesson learned is learning about all the different heritage and types of South Asian and Southeast Asian culture. For that, I’m truly grateful that I got to learn about a version of myself that I don’t think I would have done if something like this didn’t come along.
BTL: It makes you a better artist, too, right?
Huynh: Yes, and then it allowed me to be more open to my culture, as well, and less prejudiced against my own culture, which is something that I struggled with growing up. For me, this was a reawakening, reclaiming my culture and learning to love my culture and love myself in the process as well. That’s why this was such an amazing project to be a part of, with me redeeming all the things that I had written off about Asian culture in the past. A part of it was embracing all of it. The messiness, the goodness, the good food, everything. [laughs]
BTL: Thank you for sharing that. Are you mentoring anyone at the moment?
Huynh: Yes, I have a couple of people who have reached out and I’m mentoring them as best as I can. Sadly, I’ve said this before, in previous interviews, it starts at home. Seeing more faces like myself, and parents who are of Asian culture supporting their kids to go into the arts and supporting their children, to pursue these types of industries, that is important.
I would love to mentor more API individuals who are interested in this field. I just don’t have ready access to them. I am mentoring a couple of students and as many people who are willing to talk to me and approach me and ask me questions. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t have the mentors that I had as well.
BTL: Well, it’s lovely you’ll hopefully pass on these lessons from Joy Ride to future costume designers, as well.
Huynh: Yes. I’m part of a group called CAFTCAD, which is a costumes committee here in Canada. It’s based out of Toronto, and we have a Vancouver CAFTCAD West group as well. We are working toward building a program that will bring more BIPOC individuals into our community as well. I realized now more than ever, that if I want to see the change and the mentors that I needed when I was younger, I need to be a part of the change as well. That’s what we’re working towards next.
BTL: Is there a good sense of community between costume designers in Canada?
Huynh: Yes, absolutely. Our union is IATSE but CAFTCAD is part of being part of that community, creating a space where all of us who are just as crazy and nuts to be going into film to sit down and share and swap stories. I like to refer to ourselves as circus workers. We are legit, the modern-day runaways with the circus. [laughs] CAFTCAD and CAFTCAD West is part of that costume community to be able to create a space where we can discuss all things that we love about fabric and clothing and character building and character creation through clothing. It’s part of that change. I’m excited to see it.
BTL: A circus performer is an apt description. I mean, looking over your early and wild credits – some of which feature one star in particular – I can’t imagine the stories you have.
Huynh: I’m fortunate to have these stories with me. I’m so thankful for where this road has taken me and where it’s come along but there’s been a lot of trials and tribulations and trial and error that comes along with this job. It’s all very hands-on, and you only learn as you make mistakes, and you only learn as you keep going. This is part of that journey.
My early career is vast and different and eclectic, so it helps me keep looking that way because I don’t love repeating myself. For me, it’s as many different things that I can get my hands on and to explore what my brain wants to do, and what my creativity wants to do. It requires not boxing myself into a genre or a type of story. I am willing to say yes and try anything that’s available to me. I’m grateful for that trajectory and I’m so grateful for the opportunities that come my way.
Joy Ride is now playing in theaters.