When thought pieces (and pieces with not so much thought) spring up left and right about a movie, you know it’s a big deal.
It’s been less than a month since the release of Crazy Rich Asians, and needless to say, the movie has taken the world by storm. CRA is a breakthrough for Asian representation, and has been a source of pride for the Asian community.
Crazy Rich Asians tells the love story of Economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend, fellow professor Nick Young (Henry Golding, in his feature film debut). The two have a seemingly normal (and happy) relationship, until they decide to travel back to Nick’s home country of Singapore in order to attend his best friend Colin (Chris Pang)’s wedding. It is there that Rachel discovers her relationship to Nick is more complicated than expected– it turns out he’s filthy rich, very eligible and his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) isn’t too fond of her.
On the surface, the plot has a number of known romantic comedy elements– the enigmatic boyfriend, the disapproving mother, the obstacle filled relationship. However, it is the movie’s ability to tell a universal story with genuine Asian flair that truly makes it special.
Needless to say, there is more to this cast than being ‘all Asian’. They are a talented bunch composed of first time film stars (Henry Goulding), current trailblazers (Constance Wu), talented comedic actors (Ken Jeong, the Daily Show’s Ronny Chieng, the absolutely awesome Awkwafina) to screen vets (Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu) and everyone in between.
Wu and Goulding shine bright at the movie’s modern day leads, and play off their strong supporting cast quite well. Constance Wu and Awkwafina are hilarious together, and their scenes with Ken Jeong as Peik Lin (Awkwafina)’s dad are some of the movie’s funniest. Michelle Yeoh exudes real and relatable as Nick’s mother Eleanor– reminding us all of our own strong moms in the process.
From bold, modern takes on the same Chinese folk songs that bored Asian kids like myself back in elementary school to Chinese covers of popular songs like “Yellow”, Crazy Rich Asians’ distinct sound gives the movie even more life.
It’s most well known track is the Chinese cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow”– which plays at a pivotal part of the movie. Another favorite is the hauntingly beautiful cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You” by artist and YouTuber Kina Grannis, that plays during the movie’s absolutely stunning wedding scene.
On Representation: In Detail
I initially came out of the film with the mentality that it was ‘a step in the right direction’, and it is. Seeing Asian faces onscreen in roles normally reserved for non-Asians proved to be vastly empowering. Seeing Asian characters as modern, everyday individuals getting happy endings (not that kind of happy ending, mind you) was great. Seeing Asian actors as dashing leads with actual sex appeal (which they do have, mind you), and not just as comedic sidekicks– was especially awesome.
However, it was after I checked out this video that I gained some awareness of how other Asians perceived CRA’s take on representation. On the one hand, yes, Crazy Rich Asians is a breakthrough film with regard to Asians onscreen– but even it has its share of representation issues. That is– if we’re going to be particular about things.
For one, Nick Young is supposed to be Singaporean– but he’s played by an actor of Malaysian descent. Michelle Yeoh is also Malaysian but she plays a Singaporean character. The video above also touches on stereotypes (the film’s decision to portray Filipinos solely as housemaids, Asians being portrayed as mean). These were some reasons cited as to why the movie has its share of Asian detractors.
I have to say that I agree with one of the issues brought up by the video– the idea that the film may be used to perpetuate the stereotype that ALL Asians are scheming and mean. This was a similar issue I had when I first saw Mano Po. The film’s story was very Filipino Chinese, but its use of stereotypical characteristics– like being filthy rich and wearing red to birthdays, wearing cheongsams to signify ‘hey, we’re of Chinese descent!’ annoyed the heck out of me. I remember thinking that ‘hey, not all of us are this way!’. The same seems to go for some viewers of Crazy Rich Asians.
At the end of the day, the film is not perfect. It’s not like it was going to be in the first place, and that’s okay. What matters is that it has opened the door for viewers to be critical about what they see onscreen, and to be brave enough to fight for people that look like them to be onscreen in the first place. The film empowered and encouraged viewers to want people that look, speak and act like them to be portrayed in a positive light on a major stage.
Crazy Rich Asians has opened the door for that, and that’s awesome. We should all be proud of that. 🙂