The anticipation and expectations for Crazy Rich Asians have been mounting steadily since the announcement of the adaptation of Kevin Kwan‘s hit book would feature an all Asian cast. We’ve been told over and over again how important this movie will be. It’s been 25 years since Joy Luck Club and there are major concerns that if this movie doesn’t do well it might be yet another 25 years before we see another major studio film written, directed and starring Asians.
However, as an avid rom-com lover, I have been pining for more of the genre since Hollywood decided grimdark sells better than light-fun. I was sold on the concept of Crazy Rich Asians, The Prince and Me with a side of Gossip Girl-like exploration of Singapore’s high society. From the beginning, I was so excited about the rom-com aspect of the movie that I did not expect how much this film would hit me personally.
Since the first trailer dropped I’ve been full force for Crazy Rich Asians. I was excited to see so much western diaspora Asian excellence featured in the cast and crew. And I was waiting to be swept away by the fantasy of a New York woman who finds out her boyfriend is actually the super wealthy heir to one of Singapore’s founding families, all while she’s flying across the country to meet them. Rom-coms featuring the incredibly wealthy are always full of glamour and I was ready to swoon over hot Asians in pretty clothes while laughing over it all.
Amongst the excitement of the resurgence of the rom-com genre, I certainly expected to have a lot of feelings about representation. I was seeing things and people I recognize from my life on screen in a way that doesn’t happen as sharply in white created films. The Debut, an indie rom-com centering a Filipino-American family and the coming out party Filipinas have at 18, came out when I was a teen and was highly formative for me because of it. I thought I was ready for the Crazy Rich Asians spectacle.
However, I forgot that rom-coms aren’t just about the romance and the hijinks involved between the couple as they move closer together and further apart until the inevitably back together again. They’re so much more. 10 Things I Hate About You is as much about getting dates to prom as it is about Kat and Bianca’s relationship with each other and their father. Similarly, The Proposal is about Margaret realizing she doesn’t have to be defined by her work alone in addition to her growing feelings for Andrew. Sweet Home Alabama is about accepting that there’s only so far you can run from your problems. Rom-coms are just as much about family, friendship, and finding yourself as they are about love.
I saw Crazy Rich Asians with my mom. My immigrant mother raised my sister and I by herself since we were 3 and 5-years old, respectively. During the movie, she laughed and was delighted by the antics of the aunties in particular and would lean over every now and then and whisper “that’s exactly like your Lola” or “this feels like a Filipino movie.” I haven’t read the books and I didn’t know what I was in for bringing my mom and I certainly didn’t expect to end up a sobbing mess as Rachel’s own immigrant single mother reaffirmed how much she loved her.
The trailers clearly show Crazy Rich Asians is about family. However, I was under the impression it would be more of Michelle Yeoh-Constance Wu’s epic battling and less about family feels. The movie was more about Rachel (Constance Wu) navigating Nick’s (Henry Golding) family. As a perpetually single adult, I didn’t think much about it since in-laws have never been a problem I’ve thought much about.
Crazy Rich Asians drowns viewers in family feelings. Between Nick and his cousins and Rachel and her mom and all of Nick’s family, the complicated emotions surrounding family are pervasive. Considering the Asianess, that is the big draw, it shouldn’t be a surprise but I suppose I’m just so used to white people writing brown stories and not grasping the more subtle details that I wasn’t expecting it. As much as it’s a typical formulaic rom-com with the disapproving family, the jealous bullies, the sassy gay life coach, and the loud pushy friend, it still manages to surprise.
If you don’t like rom-coms this movie is probably not going to change your mind or turn you into a believer, but there are plenty of incredibly funny moments and great character scenes that even if the romance part holds little appeal you’ll still be entertained. Awkwafina’s Peik Lin and her family are a pure delight and I think everyone will relate to the gossipy aunties and useless cousins.
The setting is almost another character itself in and of itself. The West so frequently forgets the lushness of the East, preferring to portray tragedy rather than triumph. The rich and touristy parts of Singapore that are shown are alluring and made me want to plan my next vacation at Marina Bay Sands, no matter the cost. However, it is important to keep in mind, this is Singapore, in the same way, the New York City portrayed in Gossip Girl is New York City. While technically accurate for a small number of people, it is in no way representative and that’s fine.
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy about the lifestyles of the incredibly wealthy and feature mostly East Asians and lighter, more sino-looking, South-East Asians. Watching it as a diaspora SEA felt good in many ways because you get to see how hard it is for Rachel to navigate and be accepted not just in the wealthy sphere but in Asia in general.
When Nick introduces her to his mother as Chinese and Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) very quickly emphasizes Chinese-American, the look on Rachel’s face mirrored exactly how I felt in my seat. That strangeness of going to the motherland where you’re surrounded by people who look like you while being keenly aware that you don’t belong. Naysayers to the Asian-American Iron Fist campaign insisted Danny Rand couldn’t be Asian because he wouldn’t sell a fish out of water narrative but minorities who live in the diaspora know better. Between Black Panther‘s Erik Killmonger and Crazy Rich Asians’ Rachel Chu 2018 has been driving this lesson home.
But it also makes you incredibly aware that this is just the amuse-bouche when it comes to the stories by Asians. A taste that’s pleasing and easy to digest for Hollywood and white people. It’s similar enough to white-told stories about Asians in a format that’s unchallenging and “not serious.”
But make no mistake, this is not a white-told story, it’s a movie told by Asians and staring Asians. And THAT’S why it matters.