Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians


NYU Economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) joins boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) on a trip to Singapore. Surprised that they are being ushered to first class, she is in for a rude awakening once they land in the Lion City. The reason for their journey east is to attend his best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding to Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizono). The “wedding of the century” has an impressive guest list which includes the upper crust of Singaporean society, among them Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s mother. Constantly looked down upon by her unapproving future mother-in-law, Rachel gets support from Peik Lin (Awkwafina), her nouveau riche college friend who grooms her for a better shot at impressing her boyfriend’s crazy rich family. But will she ever be enough?

Awkwafina and Ken Jeong are funny and manage to steal a lot of scenes but to the detriment of other characters like Eddie Cheng who fulfill those roles in the novel. Some characters like Gemma Chan’s Astrid and Fiona Xie’s Kitty Pong are underdeveloped, considering the bigger roles they are bound to play in the sequels, while other roles like that of Harry Shum Jr.’s Charlie Wu have been reduced so much that he is relegated to a mere mid-credits cameo. How they will effectively make up for this in a sequel that introduces half a dozen new characters is anybody’s guess.

The film is visually appealing, from the way you witness Asian cuisine prepared onscreen all the way to the wealth porn that some people are complaining about, which strikes me as a bit odd. Perhaps the west has just been so accustomed to the poverty porn we serve them every year at Cannes that never have they imagined that there are Asians who also live fabulous lives. We’re neither condoning nor condemning such display of opulence, but perhaps it’s about time everyone realized that the world is more classist and elitist than it is racist. Either you have money or you don’t.

The novel isn’t perfect, but it was interesting. What made it so Asian was its focus on familial ties, many of them coming from interweaving lines of the clan’s family tree. Not all of them can be covered in a two-hour movie, which simply means that some sort of compromise had to be made somewhere. As a romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians is predictable, formulaic, yet hilariously entertaining. On that note, novel and film do coincide. It just so happens that the movie is hijacked by expectations of it becoming some sort of Asian Representation messiah. Stripped of that role, it’s just a fun rom-com, a chick flick even, that one can just enjoy.

“Asian” is such a broad umbrella of a term and is often problematic. From the Asian side of Istanbul all the way to Indonesia’s border with Papua New Guinea, everyone in between with the exception of the Russians to the north and the Australians to the south is supposed to be Asian, yet we can’t be any more diverse. Simply put, the discourse of representation in the US is not the same as what we have in Asia. The storyline focuses on a demographic that is, itself, a minority in its own country, namely the trust fund babies of Singapore’s ultra-rich who can buy $1.2M dollar pearl earrings on a whim because mom and dad have fat bank accounts. As far as we’re concerned, these "Crazy Rich Asians" do not really represent us.

But when it comes to Hollywood, representation matters. As the reigning cultural hegemon in our world today, the United States does have a say on paradigms and trends. If Crazy Rich Asians performs well in the North American box office, it will surely pave the way for more Asian stories to be told. Maybe then we will hear stories about all kinds of Asians. At least the west will finally realize that not everyone in the continent is a geek, a Kung Fu master or a wannabe illegal migrant. To think that Asian Americans born since The Joy Luck Club came out in 1993 never saw a mainstream film representing them again, until now, is outrageous. This is the reason for all the buzz, because it’s about damn time.

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