Crazy Rich Asians. The film is a delightful take on the rom-com genre, mainly because its entire cast is of Asian descent. It is a story by an Asian (novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan), brought to the screen by mostly Asians (director Jon M. Chu) and marketed by Hollywood to hopefully an audience more diverse than just Asians and those of their persuasion.
I am an Asian person. My early years growing up in Asia was spent watching a variety of films with great Asian characters. Characters with varying degrees of emotions, tastes, power, skills and complexity. I am now also an Asian migrant in a western world. My formative years as a migrant involved watching a variety of films with tragically represented Asian characters. Characters that are mostly, over-the-top martial artists, unsexy nerds, self-absorbed restaurant owners, kooky grocery store and laundromat owners etc. That I live through films is one issue. That I feel like society has a distaste for Asians by watching those films is another issue. So it is with great trepidation and excitement that I sat myself in the dim lights of the cinema and allow myself to be enthralled by the lights for 2 hours. And boy did it enthralled the sh*t out of me.
The film revolves around the effervescent Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who is successful and rich in her own right, in a somewhat progressive Cinderella story with her prince charming, an affable Nick Young (Ken Golding). It is an effective romantic tale between the two leads, but the love story I was more concerned with is the layers of romance the characters have with their individual and contextual culture and heritage.
It explores the complex relationships between both leads and their mothers, and in the now infamous mah-jong scene, stamps the invariable differences between eastern and western upbringing. Both maternal figures show great strength and sacrifice, but the main difference is how they allow their children to exemplify those strengths and sacrifices in the world. Nick’s mother, Eleanor (played by the legendary Michelle Yeoh), is stoic and serious. She reminds me of my mother and of stereotypically many other Asian mothers I know, that emphasises the importance of family unity and strength in spite of their own happiness. Rachel’s mother, Kerry (Tan Kheng Hua), on the other hand, is affectionate and warm. And her approach that the family is richer by sharing in the pursuit of one’s own happiness echoes the western mantra I came to adopt and loved as a migrant.
The connection to food is also palpable. Food found outside of one’s own ethnic geographical origins are often left wanting, is a pale imitation and usually reduced to stereotypes that pleases the palates of the locale majority. Rachel’s family has a simpler and uncomplicated perspective to food which may be a result of the above, and also of their middle class status. Nick’s family connection to food however is, steeped in tradition and can be highly complex and political. It is not just the high brow nature of their appetite (for food and for all other things), but food is used as both bait and weapon. Whilst my family did not gather to make dumplings and make thinly veiled threats at each other like the Young family did, it was used to charm and extort. But love for family and food can be heartwarming, like when my mother and grandmother made me food in case I got hungry on my flights, as how Rachel’s mother did.
Whilst both families show great longing and respect to traditional recipes, it is refreshing to see both Rachel and Nick share food on screen without judgement and with full of wanton abandonment (excuse the pun). Food should be universal. This is a great reflection of the current generation and its attitude towards global citizenship, in this increasingly multiculturally exposed world.
I am touched by how Hollywood has taken interest in representing East Asian’s cultural and economical specificity. The film captures the richness of Chinese culture and did not demonize Asia’s rising economical power. In fact, it is glorified with exquisite sets and costumes, and humanizes it by allowing Asian men and women of power to be seen on screen, mostly looking relaxed and sexy. Having said that, the leads and supporting characters battle with love, euphoria, jealousy, disappointment and heartbreak as any other character of any other ethnic origin would on screen. The film incorporates all your standard rom-com staples i.e. funny best friend, mean mean girls, sassy gay confidant, breathtaking makeovers, swooning love declarations and of course, fireworks (in all sense of the word) at the finale. The only real difference is, the characters are Asian.
Whilst television is making ground in recent times with Asian representation (think Fresh Off the Boat, Kim’s Convenience, the Family Law etc), it is one of the few major mainstream film productions to do so. The last great Hollywood film with predominantly Asian characters in my opinion, is the Joy Luck Club, which this film is now so feverishly being compared to. Whilst that was a drama feature, which usually comes with the license to be able to explore more serious issues, Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a drama. It is a comedy purely for farcical entertainment. The former was a film made at a different time. However, both films are not made for too different an audience. Everyone. And I daresay, most people enjoyed it. It’s making money. There will be a sequel. It’s got a 93% RottenTomatoes fresh rating. If you’re not into rom-coms, I just can’t imagine how you would not possibly like this film.