Crazy Rich Asians is a big deal. Directed by John M. Chu and based off the novel of the same name, this is the first Asian led film produced by a major Hollywood studio since Joy Luck Club in 1993. And it holds up under all the expectations. Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t let itself be swallowed up by its cultural significance but instead shows audiences a new story about Asians, one that’s cheerful and human.
Crazy Rich Asians follows the relationship of Chinese-American Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). The two travel to Nick’s native Singapore together for his best friend’s wedding where Rachel discovers that the Young family is one of the most elite and wealthy in the country, or more simply, crazy rich.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t as excited as I could’ve been for this movie. Having never read the book I knew only of the basic synopsis and the premise seemed silly and shallow. I wanted the first Asian led film in 25 years to be about something more meaningful, not the crazy rich lifestyle of some Asians and some girl getting swept up in it. I wanted to show people that Asians, Asian-Americans, were serious creators. The American film industry has been largely impenetrable for Asian creators and the few that make it are either given little attention or are pushed into bland action movies.
As a film itself, Crazy Rich Asians has and delivers everything it needs to be an enjoyable romantic comedy — from the funny sidekick played by Awkwafina to the picture perfect hunk — without the film being overly cliched. Wu brings freshness to the traditional role of a heroine in a romantic comedy, a woman secure in her life and herself, something even rarer in representations of Asian women in film.
The entire cast, in fact, is impeccable, from the fresh-faced Henry Golding to the criminally underrated Gemma Chan to the vet Michelle Yeoh as the intimidating matriarch. Every actor breathes life into their characters that could otherwise fall flat.
While this movie boasts many positives nothing is without issues.
Due to its simple plot, the story sometimes drags. How many times must we listen to Nick’s mother (Michelle Yeoh) direct thinly veiled threats at someone? And Rachel’s character sometimes begins to revolve too much around her relationship with Nick. This detracts from the complex female character we’ve set her up as and she is instead reduced to a list of traits, the sad reality of many ‘leading ladies’ that have come before her. Other characters just simply aren’t fleshed out at all, what more is there to Nick than a nice guy who avoids conflict?
But none of these can stand in the way of what Crazy Rich Asians means for Asian-American representation.
The point of Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t to send a huge message or have a hidden deeper meaning— that’s why I love it. For too long, the Asian community, with our rare bits of representation, a movie there, a TV show here, have had to see media that strictly focuses on the struggles an Asian-American endures in relation to America.
Growing up, the only Asian characters I saw were in the background or they were the only Asian ones there. The tokenness of Jackie Chan, Musa from the Winx Club, Mulan, and London Tipton made me grow up thinking I was the extra add-on, nothing necessary to keep a story going. The necessity of their characters revolving around their Asianness started to make me believe there was nothing I could be beyond that.
So, once I saw the movie, I cried a total of four times, three in the theater and once after I got home. The feeling of seeing somebody like you on screen is indescribable. For the first twenty minutes of the movie all I could think about was that the dialogue being exchanged between Rachel and Nick could’ve easily been said between two white people — but it wasn’t. It was two Asians portrayed as “normal”, being the same as anybody else. And that’s something that shouldn’t have been such a big deal. But it was. To see people that look like you and have stories and culture like you and have that be normal and desirable and cool is such a simple luxury that many have not had the chance to experience.
In addition, the casting of people across ethnicities still remains an issue. I agree they could’ve done better but one can’t expect them to perfect everything on the first try. These issues can serve as learning opportunities for future projects to get right. Then, hopefully, all Asian people across the more than 40 different countries in Asia, can find themselves in something rather than searching in the two or three shows and movies that are available for us right now.
At its core, Crazy Rich Asians is a simple love story, the kind that most people would want to escape into. For people to fantasize about having a boyfriend like Nick Young or wear dresses like Astrid, makes this a movie that isn’t about the Asian struggle, but romanticizes us. Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t highlight the pains of being an immigrant or being Asian, it shows Asian people in a way that is all too rare: confident and powerful. It shows that Asians can be in and can depict normal stories, they can be beautiful, cruel, maternal, desirable, funny, and everything else that makes people human.
Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t perfect but that doesn’t change the fact that it was still sweet and kind and made me feel seen in a way that I never have before. It’s provided a future in Hollywood that I’m hopeful for.