Warning: Spoilers ahead.
I’ll be honest.
When I first saw a bus stand poster of Crazy Rich Asians, I thought to myself, “Wow, here’s a perfect description of Vancouver”.
I had no intention of watching the movie, owing to the title and poster alone. I was unaware that it was based off the 2013 satirical bestseller novel with the same name by Singaporean–American author Kevin Kwan.
I was expecting a somewhat whimsical and mostly superficial movie. Instead it turned out to be the most wholesome romance comedy drama of 2018 for me.
An all-star Asian cast, Representation, Feminism
Crazy Rich Asians is the first movie in 25 years since Joy Luck Club to star an all-Asian cast. Led by Constance Wu and Henry Golding, the star studded ensemble also features popular Asian actors like Michelle Yeoh and Ken Jeong.
Breaking more than just the box office, the rom com is a loud and proud showcase of Asian talent.
To see a movie where Asian characters are finally more than just tokens of diversity (cast only to prove just how unprejudiced and open minded Hollywood is) become so successful is just another step towards breaking down the barriers to a more multifaceted representation of minorities on the big screen.
2018 has been a pretty good year for representation in Hollywood, first with Black Panther and now with Crazy Rich Asians. We need to see different faces, different cultures, different languages, and different accents on the big screen because it accurately reflects the real world — a world where a blue eyed blonde man isn’t the only one experiencing all the drama, romance and fun.
The movie to me is also fiercely feminist, considering that the head honchos of the Young family are matriarchs. The female characters are the ones that really drive the film. Unlike most movies, the women in Crazy Rich Asians are not just pretty mannequins with the occasional clever dialogue but are incredibly diverse and full characters – they’re ruthless, hilarious, unique and just oozing charisma. Their beauty and gorgeous designer wear are footnotes, and their personalities and talent instead take centre stage as should always be the case.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a bright young professor of economics at NYU. Raised by a single mother on the middle class rung of American society, her boyfriend Nick Young, played by the dashing Henry Golding who exudes Asian James Bond vibes throughout the film, is intent on taking their relationship to the next level and invites her to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is the heir of one of the richest real estate developers in Singapore.
The Young family are old money and rich as can be. Think synchronized swimmers, private party islands, taxidermied sumatran tigers, and a fleet of helicopters. They buy whatever they want, whenever they want, just because they can.
Naturally, our young heroine finds herself completely out of her element, committing various acts of faux pas as she tries to accustom herself to the elitist, snobby and ruthless world of the crazy rich all the while trying to win over Nick’s disapproving mother Eleanor, played by Michelle Yeoh, as well as the matriarch of the family, Nick’s grandmother Shang Su Yi, played by Lisa Lu.
As Rachel tries to overcome bullying and gossip from jealous women, and Nick’s scorned ex-lover, matters take an even bigger turn for the worse when Nick decides to propose to her. Rachel’s just too different, too American, too much of a banana, to fit into Nick’s traditionalist and elitist world.
Are love and honesty enough to overcome such huge classist and generational differences?
Turns out they are.
Common Asian Cultural Themes
Perhaps Crazy Rich Asians‘s biggest selling point is its ability to portray very real asian societal mentalities and traditions in a way that still dances around humour so as to elicit laughter but also showcases an honest look into Asian familial hierarchies and expected behaviour.
A common theme across most of Asia is that when you marry someone, you’re actually marrying more than the person. You’re marrying his or her entire family. It becomes of paramount importance then, to gain the blessings and acceptance of the family if you want to proceed with the marriage.
Also of paramount importance is status, something that is generally a relatively uncommon concept in the West in matters of love. In my own experience as a South-Asian woman, the financial and professional status of the person you date or decide to marry is considered to be important, whether you’re marrying above or below your own class for example.
Crazy Rich Asians also hilariously showcases how Asian parents can be very involved, almost too involved, in many aspects of your life long after they should have any right to be, at least compared to a more western standard of parenting. This is evident in Nick Young’s own life, where despite being a fully grown adult man, he is still very much controlled (at least emotionally) by the opinions and expectations of his family.
My favourite part, which I find too true, is just how powerful the ‘gossip network’ is in Asian families. Much like wildfire, it only takes one aunty or any one person in your family to spread a sordid (or even fantastic) bit of news about you, that you’d much rather keep under wraps, to the whole clan overnight.
Before we had the world wide web or WhatsApp, we had gossipy aunties, and they were (and still are) more efficient than any kind communication tools we have at our disposal.
Final overall thoughts
Crazy Rich Asians, apart from being a win in terms of minority representation, manages to retain the cheesy sparkly element of romance that makes you walk out of the theatre with a big smile on your face while still touching on very real themes and topics.
Of course, some things stay the same – those readers who are familiar with Korean or Taiwanese dramas will know what I’m talking about – and Crazy Rich Asians uses a familiar romance algorithm: the clumsy but well-meaning female protagonist, the rich prince-like love interest, the loud and foul-mouthed supportive bff, and the “evil” impediment to their love (in this case, Nick’s mother).
I’m not complaining though; the film manages to still produce a refreshing take on a tried and tested romance formula.
Travel and television host Henry Golding does a fantastic job emulating Nick Young’s combination of charm, classiness and humility, considering this is Golding’s first acting gig ever. And Michelle Yeoh is an untouchable queen in this film. The costumes, and locations are gorgeous. The screen direction was on point. Awkwafina who plays Rachel’s college best-friend Goh Peik Lin is hilarious and relatable. And Constance and Henry’s chemistry was authentic and tangible.
Honestly, there’s not much wrong with the film except that we need a release date for the sequel effective immediately.