Crazy Rich Asians
Rachel (Constance Wu) goes on spring break with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) back to Singapore for a wedding and to meet his family. Over the course of this trip she finds out Nick is a billionaire heir to the largest real estate developers in Singapore. Nick’s family struggles to accept Rachel because of her Asian-American status, lack of wealth, and family history. Crazy Rich Asians explores the differences between east and west and rich and poor, all well giving us a strong exploration of the nuances of Chinese culture.
When Will Met Romantic Comedies
I love romantic-comedies. I love them. When Harry Met Sally and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind are some of my favorite movies of all time. I love much lower critically received rom-coms such as Failure to Launch, Meet the Parents, and 10 Things I Hate About You. There is an incredibly precious quality to the grand gestures and “the will they won’t they” dynamic. (Spoilers they always will. Always). I was the kid that wrote girls Shakespeare sonnets to express my love to them in 8th grade. I was the boy that proudly wore a commitment ring with lyrics to a Plain White T’s song engraved on the inside of the band. (I was also the guy that forced the entire friend group to go see Tom Cruise’s Knight and Day and then defended it for the next several months).
Cinema is larger than life. Movies have always been about super sizing real life in new and inventive ways. Most recently super heroes, car racing criminals, and dinosaurs have become the dominant form that this size is expressed. We witness incredible spectacle and CGI destruction; the type of thing that we could never experience in real life (or hope not to, at least). Size doesn’t have to be about spectacle. It can be about emotion. It can be chasing after a plane to not let The One get away. It can be holding up a boombox in the pouring rain playing that one song. It can be an absurdly stage musical number with the high school band in front of a whole school assembly. Love is a complicated emotion that is often too big for one person to comprehend or understand. The size and scale of a romantic comedy is an attempt to blow up these feelings to their proper proportions. It’s an abstraction. It’s more importantly a celebration of love.
Why Reinvent the Wheel?
Crazy Rich Asians is making a big splash this summer. The marketing and critical realms are billing it as “Saving the Romantic-Comedy” genre. It is getting heralded as fresh, new, and much deservedly being celebrated for its diversity. I think this is off the mark. I think the most radical thing about Crazy Rich Asians is how paint by the numbers it is as a romantic comedy. It might be a flashy new foreign car, but under that hood it’s running all American.
At times this movie seems to be going out of its way to stick to genre conventions. The central conflict of this film is Nick is put in a position where he has to choose between the love of his life and his family. He keeps his family and status a secret from Rachel for almost a year of them dating because “he likes who he is around her” and “he doesn’t want to lose that version of who is his by her learning the truth about his status.” This betrayal causes significant strife in their relationship that almost causes them to break up, but in the end, love conquers all. Nick learns that Rachel cannot truly be with him until she loves the true full version of him. Rachel learns that the only way she can be a part of his family is being willing to sacrifice her relationship with the love of her life.
Making an incredibly traditional romantic comedy about an Asian couple is radical because it’s a powerful political statement. Representation in the Hollywood for Asian people has been abysmal. Crazy Rich Asians is a significant celebration of Chinese culture, but it is an American movie. Taking these faces and putting them on a screen and through a story we have seen play out a million times (frequently with Cameron Diaz and Matthew McConaughey) is an important. It makes a statement that they are just as much as part of us as we are. As much as it celebrates the differences of our cultures is argues we are the same. Very similar to Black Panther being a cultural arrival for African-American people Crazy Rich Asians is a cultural arrival for Asian-Americans.
Why They have to be “Crazy Rich”
Now that we have covered the diversity factor let’s jump into the class factor. Historically films that have make a point to focus on another culture like this one end up crossing a line into have a “world fair” quality. Instead of demonstrating our differences they are put on display for the novelty or our amusement. They can swing the other way where they are so celebrated that every nuance of their culture is treated so preciously that its stops being a story about them as people and starts being an image of them. Crazy Rich Asians subverts this tradition by making them crazy rich. This makes the film far more about class than race.
By making Nick’s family and friends uber wealthy the film becomes more a castle intrigue. We still approach the film with a focus on the novelty, but we our focus is on the excessive way these people live way more than the fact that they are Asian. A lot of the humor of the film comes from the traditional comedy troupe “just because you have wealth doesn’t mean you can buy class.” We find over time that the majority of these people are greedy, overly vain, selfish, and arrogant. It’s in the spoofing of the crazy rich that we hit the universal themes of this movie “we are more similar than different” regardless of our cultural heritage.
The other reason it’s important that these Asians are crazy rich is more rooted in representation. For an ethnicity that have been underrepresented on the big screen for far too long it’s important to for young Asian-Americans to see successful versions of themselves in media. To have someone to look up to; to strive to try and be. Crazy Rich Asians delivers a more sophisticated model though. There are extremely good characters to role model good, but there are also others negative representations of wealth as well. You see the sex obsessed man who chases a film star. You see the cousin that is more obsessed with his image and the look of his family than their actual well-being and happiness. By getting a wide range of archetypes you get an idea of the success to strive for and the dangers of taking that wrong path. There is also an equalizing quality that shows us that though their culture might be different the positive and negative effects of wealth are the same.
Crazy Rich Asians is a funny, impactful romantic comedy that highlights the power of the genre. Though its main goals are entertainment and comedy there is still a fulfilling exploration in the differences between wealth and middle class, eastern and western cultures, and the importance of family. It is a significant achievement in the push to diversify Hollywood. These characters and their culture is not a simple tokenization but holds merit and generates understanding. I would highly recommend going to see and support this film as soon as possible. It will also compliment take out and a nice date night in.