Monday, September 3, 2018

I Watched Crazy Rich Asians…

Crazy Rich Asians is a new film directed by Jon M. Chu and based off of the book with the same title by Kevin Kwan. On its opening weekend (just a few weekends ago) it grossed $25 million, making it a surprise summer blockbuster. But is it really a surprise? Billed as the first all Asian cast film since Joy Luck Club’s release in 1993, of course lines were forming because for the 4.5 billion Asians around the globe and 17 million in the US, it has been long overdue.

Critics everywhere are gushing over this movie because of this radical concept of an all Asian cast. Groups of friends are going to see it to experience this landmark in Hollywood recognition and representation. I too saw the film because as an Asian American, it would be culturally remiss if I didn’t see it and while yes, of COURSE! It is high time and great to see a film with all Asians (and not through the gaze of white eyes), there are some issues to be addressed.

The film is a rom-com in all of its glory. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and she has a boyfriend of about a year plus named Nick Young (Henry Golding). Nick invites her to Singapore, his hometown, to attend his best friend’s wedding. The rest unfolds as you can imagine, she arrives and whoa, he is not just rich but CRAZY RICH, (as the title already establishes) and the frog, princess, Cinderella, evil mother story line unfolds, happy ending and all.

For me, the issues of this movie are the most basic of criticality. First, the acting. Although I get it, this is a summer flick and other race groups have had a plethora of light, easy viewing films of the same ilk, I can never really forgive stilted acting. Although Constance Wu (Rachel) is charming in a girl next-door way, for the first half of the film I felt like I was watching someone read lines off the frame. There is a lack of dimension in her character that was a bit distressing to watch. Other actors in the film had some panache though. Akwafina (Goh Peik Lin) played Rachel’s best friend and she was actually really funny, as well as Ken Jeong (Goh Wye Mun) Peik Lin’s dad which added much needed comic relief and sparkle. It was the comedic moments that made the film have some bubble and entertainment which I felt I was holding onto for dear life in order to enjoy the film.

The other issue is that while I get it, this is a film about the super rich and that’s a totally universally desired and the glam setting of so many films, in this instance it felt somehow stereotyping. Asians have a reputation for brand obsession and the rise of economies in this part of the globe is greatly changing the landscape of consumption and branding. In addition to this, there are other stereotyping/archetyping aspects of this film that I found problematic.

As mentioned, Rachel is an economics professor at NYU and this is even highlighted as a point of exceptionalism by Nick to his disapproving mother. She is also the youngest professor and that idea of having to be hyper exceptional is very much an Asian trope. Also, what the hell does Nick do? Like we never find out what he does in New York, what his interests are, what makes him so fabulous besides being super hot and later finding out he is super rich. What is Rachel thinking?! Also, the whole sub story line (yawn) with Astrid (Gemma Chan), Nick’s sister and her husband Michael (Pierre Png) and how he cheats on her and this shows that rich people also have problems (Just Like Us!). Uggg. Really…

But maybe I am being too harsh. Too snobby in my own right. This movie does do a lot of good things. I mean, yeah, all Asian casted movies are totally viable and blockbuster capable - DUH. Yes, it is about time, necessary and refreshing to see faces like your own on the big screen. Yes, thank god the Asian male is being hubba-hubba-fied because they are super hot and that whole emasculating history needs to be quashed asap.

So yeah, this might be a problematic film like so many other films in their casting, general narrative and editing but I guess that’s the whole point. Everyone, Asians and all, should be allowed to make feel-good-trope laden films as much as they want and yes, people will go and watch the crap out of them.

I’m happy in a way that this film is just light fluffy aspirational and fairytale-esq versus the ‘let’s talk about being Asian’ identity politics. But the point I guess I’m trying to make is that even with the fluff, there is politics and although we should all just sit back and embrace the fun and decadence of it all, there are still faults and room for improvement. But for now, we will take what we can and if anything has been proven, Asian everything is hot-hot-hot and worth every penny.