Represent(asian) in “Crazy Rich Asians”

 

As the first Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast in 25 years, support for Crazy Rich Asians surged,as the film quickly earned $26.5 million within the first weekend after making its debut. The movie, adapted from the book by Kevin Kwan, follows the story of Ameri-can-born Chinese professor, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as her three-year-long relationship with Singaporean-born scion, Nicholas Young (Henry Golding) is put to the test. During a trip to Singapore, Rachel learns that her boyfriend, Young is not simply a Singapore-born university professor, but also the heir to the Young-Shang-T’sien clan, the richest family in Singapore. Being an “average Asian American,” Rachel has no idea how to handle this new revelation, and her relationship with Nicholas falls under intense scrutiny by Singapore’s wealthy community, especially by Rachel’s biggest obstacle, Nicholas’s disapproving mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh).

I’ve never been much of a movie enthusiast, but when Crazy Rich Asians started trending, I wanted to go to the movie theaters for the first time in years. As a fan of romantic comedies, the movie appealed to me in terms of story plot, but I was more interested to see how Hollywood would portray the people and cultures of both Singaporean Asians and Asian Americans.

After watching the movie, as someone who has lived half of her life in Singapore and half of her life in America, I think that Crazy Rich Asians does an excellent job in showing cultural practices common in Singaporean and Asian American life, such as the way Chinese, English and Singlish (a creole language) is used.

However, the importance of family lineage in the movie, shown through the clash between the different attitudes of “Asians from Asia” and Asian Americans, is over-exaggerated and unrealistic. Ultimately, the clash in attitudes is the driving force in the conflict between Eleanor and Rachel. Eleanor disapproves of Rachel, especially since Rachel is the product of an American middle-class sin- gle-parent family, belonging to a world completely foreign to the Young clan. In the eyes of Eleanor, Asian Americans do not value family and tradition but instead prioritize individualism and their own ambitions. Eleanor’s mindset is not reflective of most Chinese Singaporeans’ mentality. However: most Singaporeans aren’t as concerned about status as much as Eleanor, perhaps due to the strong Western influences in Singapore.

Besides preserving the family lineage, Eleanor cannot understand Rachel’s apparent lack of connection with her cultural heritage: even Rachel’s best friend describes Eleanor’s view of Rachel as “a banana, yellow on the outside, white on the inside.” Rachel is un- aware of common customs among the traditional upper-crust Chinese. Her naiveté works against her at family gatherings in Asia, where family members heavily adhere to traditional Asian culture. When Rachel attempts to drink water from a hand-washing dish, her lack of understanding of elite Chinese customs causes her to feel like a fish out of water. The social blunder only adds to the prejudice Eleanor already has built against Rachel.

I can somewhat relate to Rachel’s struggles. Since I rarely speak in complete Chinese sentences with my family, I often end up mis- understanding what people are saying, and, consequently, I commit social blunders similarly to Rachel. The movie illustrates how misunderstandings can occur when both Asian Americans and non-American Asians are not aware of each other’s cultural values.

Although Crazy Rich Asians may not be the best movie for accurate Asian representation, it is a steppingstone for future movies. I am not trying to discourage anyone from watching the movie, but I would like people to be more aware of the discrepancies between characters in the movie and their respective cultures in real life. The typical plot of a family’s disapproval of a son’s or daughter’s romantic relationship is well executed, a sentiment corroborated by the movie’s favorable response. Various scenes, particularly the wedding scene and the Mahjong scene at the end of the movie, highlight the terrific cast, colorful exchanges, and a story with a lot of heart. Hollywood has done its part in bringing this romantic comedy to the big screen, and I look forward to a future wherein movies casting Asians is the norm.

Claudia Tang / Co-editor in chief

Image Courtesy of Vox

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