At a time when Hollywood has started to realize that diversity sells, “Crazy Rich Asians” brings glitz and glamour to the rom-com genre and makes history in the process.
Dynamic performances by Constance Wu and Henry Golding and nuanced characters who defy tropes make the story compelling, while the appealing landscapes and costumes delight the eye. Signifying a cultural milestone for the Asian-American community, this blockbuster is the first major studio film to feature a majority-Asian cast since “The Joy Luck Club” over 25 years ago.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel, “Crazy Rich Asians” tells the colorful story of Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu, played by Wu, who accompanies her longtime boyfriend Nick Young, played by newcomer Golding, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore.
Rachel is unknowingly thrust headfirst into a world of elitist family members and jealous socialites when she discovers that her boyfriend comes from one of the wealthiest families in Singapore. Throughout the film, Rachel navigates many challenges, the most difficult being the disapproval of Nick’s mom, Eleanor Young, played by Michelle Yeoh.
On the surface, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a lavish escapist fantasy with a crazy plot and an even more eccentric ensemble of characters. The breathtaking scenery of Singapore and extravagant costumes contribute to the visual feast that the film offers.
“Crazy Rich Asians” also tells the story of an Asian-American woman coming to terms with her cultural identity and embracing her mixed heritage with great pride. Throughout the movie, the greatest criticism Rachel faces from Nick’s family and friends — especially his mother — is that she will never be enough for Nick or his world due to her American roots and lower socio-economic status.
Eleanor particularly looks down on the fact that Rachel is the daughter of a single mother and that Rachel pursues her passion rather than focusing on familial responsibility. The personal journey Rachel undergoes provides the backbone of the narrative, and the moment she realizes her own self-worth, regardless of what others think, is an empowering and emotional scene.
The vulnerability, strength and humor that Wu brings to her character endear her to the audience and leave them rooting for her happy ending. Along with Wu, the star-studded ensemble features a combination of established Hollywood actors and actresses and notable newcomers; this mix can be attributed in large part to director Jon Chu’s initial international open casting call in 2017, through which he aimed to boost Asian representation on the big screen.
Western films usually feature commonly recycled depictions of Asian characters: the tiger mom, the martial arts master, the awkward nerd and so forth. “Crazy Rich Asians” turns these tropes on their heads and shows Asians in a refreshing new light. For example, the film’s portrayal of men like Nick as attractive and charming combats the stereotype of the undesirable Asian man. Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina, demonstrates this portrayal when she gawks at Nick and says, “He’s like the Asian Bachelor!”
Perhaps even more significantly, Asian women in the film are depicted as strong, independent and multidimensional through an array of different characters and personality types. The dignified Eleanor, for example, a formidable antagonist, captures both the audience’s frustration and sympathy with her unyielding loyalty to her family. Peik Lin, on the other hand, proves an absolute scene stealer with her wit and unabashed attitude.
One of the most empowering scenes in the film centers on Nick’s cousin Astrid Leong, played by Gemma Chan. Her unwavering composure and politely reserved nature conceal a remarkably complex woman who delivers one of the film’s most iconic lines in the face of her crumbling marriage. To her husband, she says, “It’s not my job to make you feel like a man. I can’t make you something you’re not.”
Taken as a whole, these characters’ dynamism is a welcome change to standard Asian representation in the media; the film emphasizes the humanity and nuance of Asian people in a way that Hollywood has rarely explored.
One of the most common criticisms the film has received is that it does not represent every Asian experience. Given its focus on a specific and niche society within Asian culture — with primarily light-skinned characters of Chinese descent — this is a valid observation, which the actors, including Wu, have acknowledged.
It is worth noting, however, that given the diversity in the Asian community, a single movie could not capture every story and do them all justice. While “Crazy Rich Asians” is by no measure fully representative or a catch-all solution to
Hollywood’s longstanding neglect of minorities, its greatest triumph is that it opens the door for better, more inclusive representation and more diverse Asian-American narratives.
As the film continues to dominate in the box office, “Crazy Rich Asians” proves to be a true testame nt to the importance of representation in the media and paves the way for a more inclusive Hollywood.