By Eunice Kim
As an Asian-American, I squeal in glee when someone who looks remotely like myself appears on the big screen. However, I often feel jaded when I ponder about it. Too often are Asians confined to the film and television parameters of “the smart computer nerd,” “martial artist expert,” or “token Asian for diversity.” It seemed like wishful thinking to hope for actors and actresses of minority groups to ever play well-rounded, vibrant characters without needing to recognize their Asian requirements.
Thus, my heart was startled with pleasure when I found out that there would be a Hollywood production featuring an all-Asian cast. In fact, it has been 25 years since there has been such a cast. “The Joy Luck Club” was the last in 1993.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” based on the 2013 best-selling novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, is the romantic comedy-drama, directed by Jon M. Chu (“G.I. Joe Retaliation”). Released August 15, the film has already been penned a box-office and critical success.
The film revolves around Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, known for the sitcom “Fresh off the Boat”) visits Singapore with her Singaporean boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) for his best friend’s wedding. There, she realizes the disparity between her and Nick’s social standings, as he is part of one of the most affluent families in Singapore. The situation further becomes problematic for Nick’s strong-willed matriarch mother (Michelle Yeoh), who disapproves of Rachel and Nick’s relationship.
This is a common trope: the parental figure doesn’t approve of a couple madly in love with each other because of differing socio-economic backgrounds. Therefore, the film depicts many scenes of confrontation between Rachel and Nick’s mother as well his struggle to choose between family or a significant other. This felt overdone and deeply predictable, akin to a pretty standard romantic film.
Still, the movie truly lived up to its glitzy name. Many scenes covered incessant flashing lights from paparazzi through various angles, and many of the elegant elite were clad in gorgeously luxurious attire as they strutted around their extravagant homes. Distance shots of party barges overflowing with unbridled dancing and fireworks were abundant with materialism but also symbolized liberation from constraints. There were no duties to satisfy; for most of the characters, the objective was just to have fun and indulge in being crazy rich.
Though gorgeous, the lavish display of superficial consumerism was too much to handle at times. Yet, it was something I could not reject wholly as the film exuded an opulence with which I had never before seen Asians tied.
Moreover, the movie showcased an impressively vivid array of Asian characters. While there were a few one-dimensional side characters, the Asian men were not emasculated as they usually are in Hollywood. Their flaws stemmed from their own traits not just their appearance. The Asian women were not submissive to the man; rather, they were self-sufficient and often more dominant.
Though the movie shed light into a particular group of Asians, the values were deeply universal. Nick’s mother was not a shallow, evil woman who merely dubbed Rachel an insufficient suitor for her son because of her American origin; she cared deeply about her son being with someone who could provide more than fleeting happiness that she believed Rachel would provide. Sacrifice and love went hand in hand.
Though the film was not entirely faultless, as many moments remained too saccharine and cliche, this movie was more than a sugary rom-com flick. “Crazy Rich Asians” made it clear that there is more to Asians than the typical TV stereotypes or token roles. This all-Asian cast fervently emphasized that Asians, and any group for that matter, can adhere to or deviate from any world they desire to. Its existence was a triumph.