#CrazyRichAsians #Movie #Review #Diversity #DiegoCagara #SpotlightNews
The distant island nation of Singapore welcomes moviegoers into a smartly-written and lavish romantic-comedy drama, where Western and Eastern social values clash, all while championing as one major step forward concerning Asian representation in American cinema.
Directed by Jon M. Chu, “Crazy Rich Asians” was based on Singaporean-born novelist Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel which shares its name, and is actually the first of a trilogy of books.
It chronicled Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu), a New York University economics professor, agreeing to meet her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) family back in Singapore, the latter of whom would be the best man at his best friend’s wedding there too. Chu also noted that Young rarely spoke about his family and background, only to suddenly discover that he comes from a heavily affluent family there.
News of the couple’s impending arrival reached Singapore abruptly, thanks to snooty gossip mongers, causing people across social media to harshly judge Chu’s appearance and defile her as a golddigger.
Much like from Chu’s standpoint, the audience is given a first-person perspective as their plane literally landed at Singapore’s Changi Airport, noted for being the world’s finest airport in real life, and she entered this country with wide eyes, not knowing what to expect. While reuniting with her former college best friend, Goh Peik Lin (played by rapper and University at Albany alum, Awkwafina), Chu eventually met Young’s family, with disastrous results. Her humble background, being raised by a single mother and her passion for her career, all clashed with Young’s relatives’ sheer opulence and family-comes-first-before-career overall mentality.
While the film primarily focused on Chu trying to win over Young’s strict mother, Eleanor Sung-Young (played by Michelle Yeoh), it intelligently displayed how beneath Singapore’s riches and the elites’ smiles, were classism and shallowness. Many characters rudely ostracized and intimidated Chu, from throwing sadistic remarks to literally leaving a dead fish on her bed, with a damning “gold digging bitch” message.
Chu’s intricate direction engages the audience to feel for Chu, who, after being bullied immensely, gains confidence from her few allies, including her boyfriend, her own mother, and Peik Lin. Her so-called rebirth occurred during one of the film’s pivotal sequences, where she arrived in a beautiful gown at Young’s best friend’s wedding at CHIJMES, a real historical Catholic church in Singapore.
As someone who personally lived and grew up back in Singapore for over a decade before moving away to Germany and the United States, recognizing many of Singapore’s landmarks, including the Marina Bay Sands, Fullerton Hotel, and the aforementioned CHIJMES all made me feel like I was back home again, even for just two hours. It feels quite surreal that Hollywood and as a result, massive audiences worldwide, would know about Singapore now more. As I grew up, very few people had even heard of the island country to begin with.
I warmly appreciated how the filmmakers captured Singapore’s culture, by including its rich cuisine, numerous famous Southeast Asian actors, filming there on location, and having some characters speak in “Singlish”—a creole that combines the English language with words from other languages that are commonly spoken in Singapore, like Malay, Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Hokkien and Tamil.
Romantic comedies have long been a darling, sometimes cringeworthy, in American and British cinema, with hits like 2001’s “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” 2003’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” and 2008’s “Mamma Mia!” But what makes “Crazy Rich Asians” different is its bold statement that Asian and Asian-American representation deserve a better space in Hollywood. This film succeeded because of its all-Asian cast, although there was some controversy for that same reason.
An example was how lead actor Henry Golding, who played a Chinese Singaporean character, is actually of English and Malaysian descent, leading to some discussion over whether a Eurasian was the right casting choice. Notably, Korean American actress Jamie Chung initially criticized his casting in a CBS News interview in April 2017, who herself was denied a role in the film as she was not considered “ethnically Chinese.”
“That is some bull****. Where do you draw the line to be ethnically conscious?” She said, which earned massive criticism online, and she later apologized to the “Crazy Rich Asians” cast.
In a Nov. 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Golding himself said, “For me, it was almost like being kind of stabbed in the back. I was like, ‘Aren’t we meant to strive together for something bigger than those boundaries that we’re putting on ourselves instead of bullying each other?’”
He even questioned why people seemed so bothered over how a person should be considered “Asian” enough, relating to how ugly the conversation of diverse representation in Hollywood can sometimes be.
Relating to recent accusations of whitewashing and lack of diversity in films in general, fellow castmate Awkwafina said in a Dec. 2017 interview, “If Asian people did not voice their opinions and didn’t fight for what was right on the internet, then all those movies from 2015, 2016, that cast white actors as Asian people, that would’ve never been called out and that could’ve then turned into a pattern.”
It should be important to note that although the film has been promoted as a huge milestone for Asian representation in American cinema, it primarily dealt with Chinese characters here, unlike other races like Malay and Indian which are also prominent in Singapore’s population. The film also should not be perceived as an accurate depiction of Singapore because it largely focused on the wealthy.
Despite these shortcomings, the film has a genuine heart, being able to capture Golding and Wu’s chemistry as a couple, tapping into Wu’s character’s humble roots, and it truly wants to revolutionize the conversation on diversity in cinema. It indirectly also highlights Singapore as a powerful nation despite its miniscule size, as it managed to grow from a third world to a first world country within one generation.
The country should not be surprised if tourism dramatically rises soon, due to the stellar cast’s performances, brilliant writing, and breathtaking on-location shots.