Growing up, it was very hard for me to understand the concept of representation. Everything I did, from the way I spoke, to what I wore, and to what I ate, had to be acceptable. It had to be white acceptable. I constantly rejected anything ethnic in my life because that’s what I observed growing up. Asian people are caricatures in media. The characters I saw were usually either really hot Asian women as assassins or some weird looking, over-the-top Asian guy as comic relief.
I have no idea why I valued being more “white.” I went to a school where the majority of students were Latino, Black, and Asian. It wasn’t until I was in my late teens when I realized that something was wrong. That I should be proud of who I am. It was just hard to relate to these masculine, white men with superhero bodies being a queer Asian guy who’s all chub. It’s still something I struggle with, and Hollywood hasn’t been that helpful.
Years later, I saw the trailer for Crazy Rich Asians.
It’s a Hollywood movie. With Asian people. I wanted this to be good, but I had my reservations. While I had never read it, I knew that this movie was based on a book. A lot of people (from all walks of life) were really rooting for this movie, but if you look at the history of movie adaptations of books in recent years, there are many that just didn’t make it. This year alone, we saw a lot of disappointment with A Wrinkle in Time, Red Sparrow, and 12 Strong, to name a few. Much like Love, Simon and Black Panther, a lot of people wanted this movie to soar to prove Hollywood that film about a marginalized community can succeed. Crazy Rich Asians is the first American film to star a predominantly Asian cast in 25 years since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.
There was a lot at stake, but Crazy Rich Asians was met with so much success.
Where you’re of Asian descent or not, Jon M. Chu created a spectacle that many people can relate to and understand. The cast is phenomenal. Constance Wu (as the main character, Rachel) proves that she is one of today’s best actresses. Henry Golding (as Nick Young, Rachel’s boyfriend who is “crazy rich”) destroys the stereotype and proves that Asian men are indeed sexy. Michelle Yeoh (as Eleanor Young, Nick’s disapproving mother) reminds us why she is a legend. But Awkwafina (as Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s college best friend) is the one who truly steals the show, adding another great comedy role to her list of achievements. Awkwafina is definitely one to look out for. She makes Jack Black’s recent characters seem serious and dry.
The plot is obviously leaning towards making references to the intended audience, but it doesn’t deviate from telling a story that anyone can understand. A girl from New York finds out that her boyfriend is “crazy rich”, and is shut down by his even richer mother. There are party scenes that make those from The Great Gatsby look like your cousin’s 8th birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese's. But it’s that damn wedding scene that really takes your breath away. Not gonna spoil it. Just look for it. Everything everyone wore belonged on the cover of Vogue Magazine.
The music was familiar, yet different. Near the end of the movie, I recognized a tune. It was “Yellow” by Coldplay, but a cover not in English. The placement and use of the song are so interesting, considering “yellow” is a traditionally racist term, but Jon M. Chu “reappropriated” the word and created something beautiful with singer Katherine Ho.; this song is easily an anthem for so many people.
It feels so good being able to identify with an Asian character (there are many I love, like Glenn Rhee from The Walking Dead, but no one has been that relatable to me). Constance Wu’s as this quirky introvert-y person who has to do these extroverted things for the sake of her boyfriend is a breath of fresh air for me. I already think of her as a(/my) mom from Fresh Off the Boat, and it was very emotional seeing her in this role because it feels a lot like a step up.
We really needed this movie. There’s a gross exclusion of Asian people in Hollywood. Asian actors still only make 1% of leading roles in the industry. Out of 1,114 directors from the last 10 years and 1,000 films, only 3% were Asian. But Crazy Rich Asians became the #1 movie in the box office. It was projected to make about $18 million over its five-day opening weekend, but that went up to $26 million as the premier came closer. It made $35.2 million and defied expectations, and that’s just the first week. Crazy Rich Asians has created such a big buzz around the world, and with its stellar reviews from both critics and fans, it sure attracts more viewers universally now that it’s out on Blu-Ray and DVD.