Crazy Rich Asians hit the big screen and pretty much delivered on the hype, shooting to the #1 spot at the box office and landing a 93% on Rotten Tomatoes with critics and audiences over the weekend.
I checked it out, and trust me. It’s good.
So, why is this film important? And what does it mean for not only Asian Americans, but for audiences of all colors and diverse backgrounds? What is so special about this film is how… normal it is.
And I’ll tell you what I mean.
Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) agrees to travel to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) for a wedding, and eventually meets his family. The twist here is that Rachel suddenly learns of Nick and his family’s wealth, which is a bit of a culture clash considering she was raised by a single mother in New York. The Youngs aren’t just a standard rich family either. We’re talking buying 5-Star hotels on whim kind of wealth, here, if you get what I mean.
Rachel is immediately at odds with Nick’s disapproving family, particularly with his mother (played by Michelle Yeoh). This then becomes the base for all the rom com and drama that follows throughout the film.
My main takeaway after watching Crazy Rich Asians is that it is at its core a universal love story that happens to be about Asian people. So many times in movies featuring diverse characters, those certain characters fall into the trap of being caricatures of their particular race or religion. There is a tendency to place so much attention on those characters’ otherness to the point of them becoming stereotypical. But that does not seem to be the case in Crazy Rich Asians.
One particular scene that caught my attention was towards the beginning of the movie, when Rachel is advised not to wear the standard Chinese-inspired red dress to the first of the Youngs’ mansion parties. Instead, she opts to wear something more contemporary to the event. It was such a small and subtle scene, but the impact it had (along with other early key moments) showed that, yes, this is a story that takes place in Asia and has Asian characters, but it’s not the main focus of the story being told. The acknowledgement, and eventual ditching of the red dress is enough of a nod to the traditions of Chinese culture without being too obvious. I also loved how the majority of the main characters do not speak with the typical Asian accents (in fact, most of the characters went to expensive boarding schools in England, which explains their elevated English and British accents).
That’s not to say there isn’t much about Asian culture in this film. A lot of the humor can be funny to all audiences, but the film still pays homage by referencing and making light of idiosyncrasies particular to the Asian and Asian American experience. There is also a variety of background shots of Singapore that give a brief snapshot of what nightlife is like for a tourist. When given in small doses, it’s enough to show audiences what life is like for Asians and Asian Americans, but not going too far in bringing major attention to the foreign-ness or difference of it all.
Because in the end, this story is about Rachel and Nick and their struggle to truly love and be happy when under the watchful eye of a judgmental family. And that’s a story that I think a lot of us can or will relate to at some point in our lives. The significance of this is the normality of it all, and how it shows that a story like that can be told with Asian characters. As an Asian-American myself, it was awesome to see a film give the greenlight to actors similar to me on the big screen, and it gives me hope that we’ll start to see more proper representation for diverse groups of all backgrounds in media. Movies like Crazy Rich Asians solidify our existence and place in American culture as a whole, without the tropes and stereotypes that we tend to see in older films and shows.
And those films should not be looked down upon (after all, I do love me some cheesy kung-fu movies!). But when done well, shifting the focus of culture to the backdrop of the film can open the door for universal stories featuring diverse characters that has the potential to connect with all kinds of audiences across the world.