CRAZY RICH ASIANS
By Mikayla Kwan
Here is a quick and pretty generalized/basic explanation of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) if you don’t already know about the beauty that is that film and book:
The movie Crazy Rich Asians is based on the bestselling novel of the same name written by Kevin Kwan. It is the first book of a trilogy. It follows Chinese-American professor, Rachel Chu, who falls in love with Nick Young, who happens to be a “crazy rich Asian” from old family money in Singapore. They travel to Singapore, from their regular life in New York, for Nick’s best friend’s wedding. Rachel comes in contact (and conflict) with Nick’s family and learns of his extreme wealth and status within this society. The movie features Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkafina, Michelle Yeoh, and Ken Jeong.
This movie has made huge strides for Asian representation in Western media. It is the first movie in 25 years to have an all Asian cast and an Asian-American lead, the last was Joy Luck Club (1993). Which is wild. Crazy Rich Asians is based on the book by Chinese Singaporean-American Kevin Kwan, and it was directed by Chinse-American John M. Chu (who had already directed a handful of well known works – Justin Bieber documentaries, Step Up movies). It employed a number of Asian-American actors and other Western based Asian actors as well. It has proven that there are tons of employable Asian actors out there. It brought them together in a space that was about their community. The movie itself, while it is centred on “crazy rich Asians”, isn’t exclusive to Asian people. It’s a classic rom-com with culturally specific Chinese elements within it, but ultimately it appeals to all kinds of demographics – which is why it is as successful as it is. (Additionally, the support and promotion from the Asian community was huge. #GoldOpen – the Asian representation movement.)
For me, seeing this movie in theatres for the first time was incredible. Actually seeing people that looked like me on the big screen. Hearing Chinese music in the movie and relating that to things that I heard a little bit growing up. It made me feel like this was my community and something I knew a little bit better than someone else on the street. There was the use of embracing Chinese culture in respectful and subtle ways. It addressed the conflict between this Chinese-American attitude and upbringing, via Rachel Chu, and the more traditional, tiger-mom-esque values we get from the incredible Michelle Yeoh playing Eleanor Young, Nick’s mom. It, inherently, isn’t about race because everyone’s the same race. They’re all Asian. So instead it becomes about class and social standings and money. It is about cultural differences between Western born and raised Chinese people and more “traditional” Chinese people, which is something I can really relate to as a Chinese-Canadian. Having theatres full of Asians laughing at the same things and feeling connected to this kind of mainstream movie is so beautiful. It felt like we understood and related to certain interactions or moments that other people/cultures might not. With that said,
even non-Asian people can relate to this movie as well, and we have seen it through social engagement and everything else online.
Another big thing that hit me with this movie was that it used some of the Asian arts communities that already existed on YouTube and brought them together and into the mainstream. Growing up on the Asian YouTube scene and seeing Kina Grannis in this movie singing at the wedding was absolutely incredible. I felt so proud and excited. It felt like we had made it. It felt like I had been on this journey from some small community to this big screen production. It was emotional. Then seeing YouTube videos of other Asians, like Wong Fu Productions, having been on set and in the movie at the wedding reception scene was huge too. It felt like we as a community were involved, and we were. It was the inclusion of something that felt more grassroots. Also, it should go without saying but having a Chinese-American director direct a Chinese-American story means so much. Having teams that actually understand the culture and the group is so powerful and beautiful. It should be the norm, or at least more common than it is right now. We should be the ones who are able to tell our experiences first because then they can be authentic and real.
I love this movie. I love this book. I love everything about it. I know some other Asians may feel differently, but for me, this all gives me hope. It has given opportunities to people that look like me. It has put their faces out to wider audiences. I remember seeing Gemma Chan in the tv show Humans, a show about robots, and being excited to see an Asian. Seeing her in Crazy Rich Asians was so exciting because I knew who she was, and Astrid, her character in Crazy Rich Asians is so badass and beautiful and incredible. Now we’re seeing her in more and more mainstream Marvel movies which is absolutely incredible. Crazy Rich Asians (CRA) has brought Henry Golding out as a fresh face as well. In the same year as CRA, he was in A Simple Favor, then a little bit later, he was in the Christmas rom-com Last Christmas, and the Guy Ritchie movie The Gentlemen. And of course, Constance Wu who many are familiar with from the tv show Fresh Off The Boat, post-CRA she was in the movie Hustlers with Jennifer Lopez. A couple other new faces that have personally made my radar post-CRA are Ronny Chieng and Jimmy O. Yang. I had seen Ronny Chieng on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah a bit before CRA but after, he had his Netflix stand up comedy special. Similarly with Jimmy O. Yang, post-CRA I have seen his stand up comedy special circulating. There’s also Chris Pang, who played Nick’s best friend Colin in CRA. He appeared in the new Charlie’s Angels. Besides the quantifiable credits on these actors’ IMDb pages, I’m sure many of these actors have gained social media followings just by getting their faces onto this mainstream platform, and to me, that is amazing, inspiring, and so uplifting. The fact that the work is being done and being created for more and more Asians is really beautiful. The fact that more and more Asian faces are being included in stories that aren’t just about their Asianness is also really beautiful.
We have the talent, we have the people. We can do it. No more telling us that “Asians can’t make money in the entertainment industry” because “that’s not what people want to see or pay for”. That’s old. We as an Asian community, and on the whole as a society that is placing importance on inclusivity and different/new stories, we have proven that it works, that it’s viable. So cheers to Asian and Asian-American/Western Asian communities. Cheers to more representation and stories to come.