There is no better time to be Asian-American than now. Or at least, that’s what critics of Crazy Rich Asians (2018) are saying.
The film is the first Hollywood feature to utilize an all-Asian cast in 25 years. It is groundbreaking for Asian-American communities across the nation who have long wanted to see themselves reflected on the big screen. And, directed by Chinese-American filmmaker Jon Chu, Crazy Rich Asians redefines our racial expectations, seeking to invent a genre of distinctly Asian-American visual storytelling.
Crazy Rich Asians follows Chinese-American Rachel Chu (played by Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu) as she struggles to assimilate to her boyfriend’s family—one of the wealthiest in Singapore—and win their approval.
Coming into the film, I hoped to see myself portrayed in a way that did justice to the multidimensional character of the Asian-American experience. In my years growing up, I’d been taught by teachers and peers that Asian-Americans were not creative, not energetic, and not vibrant.
And yes, I wanted to see the film because of the stunning cast. As an Asian-American girl living in a climate where I felt stifled by racial expectations, I wanted to see people like me who had overcome that somehow by appearing in a Hollywood film. But, I also wanted to see what the film could represent for the generations of Asian Americans to come—who I hope will be able to see films like this and realize that their voices are valid.
I was not disappointed.
Crazy Rich Asians carries many subtle elements of tradition that exemplify what we’ve grown accustomed to in mainstream culture (ex. the toxic masculinity of bachelor parties), but reinvents what it means to be “mainstream” all the same. For example, popular English songs are translated into Mandarin Chinese.
The film is portrayed from an outsider’s perspective into Asian society. This is especially significant given that for so long, Asians have been the outsiders themselves. And though it is easy to talk about Asian-American representation in terms of what we see on screen, the real merit lies in Crazy Rich Asians’ authenticity.
There are no martial arts, no “nerdy Asian” caricatures. Rather, there are night markets, the language we use to address elders (is it “Auntie” or “Mrs. Young?”), bringing leftover food in Tupperware containers, and the contemporary thrill of red envelopes.
Everything in Crazy Rich Asians is so new to a non-Asian-American audience, but so familiar to me. I was struck by how the film managed to stray away from tropes of jade dragons and oxtail soup to truly illuminate the concept of an ethnic community.
Yet, what really resonated with me wasn’t the novelty of the film, but the real, authentic depiction of what it means to live as a hyphenated identity in America. Through Rachel’s experiences onscreen, we begin to understand the confusion of not really belonging in either America or Asia, the different definitions of “success” within various classes, and most of all, the ties between the family we’re related to by blood and the family we create for ourselves.
Like its theme song “Yellow” (a cover of Coldplay’s hit song), the film reclaims what it means to be “yellow.” Watching Crazy Rich Asians as a Chinese-American meant that I could watch a mahjong showdown instead of yet another game of poker. It meant that yellowness was taking ownership of the dominant narrative, shedding off terms like “quiet” and “voiceless” to carve out its own unique identity.
In fact, the only math-related aspect portrayed within the film is Rachel Chu’s job as an economics professor at NYU, and even that serves to illustrate the film’s insight into game theory. In this sense, math becomes a metaphor for emotion: a quality that has often been overlooked within the Asian caricature.
No, Crazy Rich Asians will most likely not win an Oscar for Best Picture; the plot is nothing new. But the real prizes are both the film’s universality and its specificity. Crazy Rich Asians appeals to a wide range of audiences while still catering to the audience that matters most: the one it features. –Valerie Wu
Valerie Wu is a senior at Presentation High School in San Jose. Her work has been featured in the Huffington Post, the Mercury News, and the Columbia Political Review, among others. She tweets @itsvaleriewu.
Crazy Rich Asians
Directed by Jon M. Chu
Written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim
Adapted from Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Runtime: 120 min