Crazy Rich Asians hit the big screens in October of 2018 here in India. I’m a little late to the review party but only recently had a chance to watch it. The conversations surrounding it and the movie itself jolted me to pen down a few thoughts of the movie.
The movie is an adaptation of a book of the same name written by Kevin Kwan. It captured significant buzz before its release owing to its cast which consisted of Asians and Asian-Americans as opposed to the usual Caucasian cast. This was a big move for risk-averse Hollywood which has not seen a movie with an Asian cast since 1993.
The movie was released in 2018 and conviction was still needed to prove that a non-Caucasian cast would do well and capture the attention of a worldwide audience. The success of the movie had severe implications for Asians and Asian American actors and film-makers. Hollywood was after all giving this gene pool only one shot to make an impression before it would trot back to the safe zone of a white cast. And what a success it was! It earned a global box office total of 238 million dollars as well as the title of being the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade!
The excitement for it, however, ends there for me.
The cast may look different from the likes of Richard Gere, Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, but the storyline and plot fall squarely into the generic tropes that have always been in romantic comedies. Perhaps a familiarity was felt needed to appeal to a larger audience, but apart from the cast having a cultural background different from the conventional white households, Crazy Rich Asians is but another romantic comedy which fails to truly make an impact.
The movie is based on a young couple in New York who travel to Singapore for a wedding. Leading lady Rachel Chu played by Constance Wu is an Asian American who is an economics professor at New York University, while her boyfriend is Nick Young (Henry Golding) who hails from Singapore, comes from a very affluent family. Rachel learns of her boyfriend’s wealth only when she visits Singapore. How this conversation was never brought up when they’d been in a relationship for a significant amount of time is beyond my understanding, and how she remained absolutely oblivious to it in the digital age with Google on our fingertips makes little sense.
Once Rachel lands in Singapore she is forced to navigate through excessive wealth thrown in her face as well as familial hurdles with Nick Young’s mother believing she is not good enough for her son owing to her background which lacks pedigree and vast fortune. The only silver lining through all of this is that Rachel holds her own and is not a damsel in need of saving, as is the recurrent theme in most romantic comedies. She has a prestigious career and refuses to give it up in lieu of a life with oodles of inherited money and extravagant parties.
Apart from that little bit of feminism to chew on, the movie leaves little to think about. Considering that the movie was expected to be “groundbreaking” for its Asian representation, it ends up doing very little to actually do justice to the community and apart from a cast and setting that looks different from the usual rom-com, the movie is just another fluffy Hallmark movie which is time tested as a crowd pleaser. Rather than bringing Asian communities to the forefront, capitalist culture and the lives of the crazy rich are in full display in the movie with one lavish party after another. We could say that Hollywood did the best job with this film if the point of the movie was not to highlight the culture of Asians but rather to bring attention to the presence of Asian families that do come from wealth.
If the success of the movie is to measured by money alone, we could definitely call it a hit and a breakthrough, and perhaps this will allow for Hollywood to open its casting doors to more Asians. However, if we were to dig deeper, we can observe the movie as still playing and catering to a white audience with more regard of appealing to them rather than giving due representation to a minority community as was the intended sentiment behind making this movie.
The tragic flaw of Crazy Rich Asians is that it played safe and in its quest for universal appeal, it fails to bring a much needed cultural punch and individuality to the movie. Instead, it falls flat with a predictable storyline whilst glorifying capitalism at its finest.
If you’re in the mood for a mindless movie, this 120-minute watch would be worth the time, but if you’re looking for more substantial fare, you can give it a miss.
Author: Camilla Lyndem
Camilla Ann Lyndem is a Staff Writer. Based in Bengaluru, she is a graduate of St.Stephen’s College, Delhi, where she completed her Undergraduate and Postgraduate degree in English Literature.Although a hardcore liberal arts student, she enjoys coding and has worked on building smart models, including a smart irrigation system (take that, CS students).