4 Things I Loved About Crazy Rich Asians
I initially approached this film with intense trepidation, bracing myself for potential jokes that would come at the expense of ridiculing Asian culture as opposed to celebrating it. I cannot count how many situations I have been in where I would cringe at various Asian American artists or performances depicting Asian Americans. From the yellow face of Breakfast at Tiffany’s , to Margaret Cho‘s uneasy Golden Globes North Korean act, Hollywood has traditionally positioned us as the punchline to be laughed at.
Below are some of the aspects of the film that I just cannot get enough of, and that make me feel so happy to watch multiple times. Applause is also in order for the cast and crew of the film, for these aspects just feel so deliberate in execution, yet subtle enough that one might miss said aspect against the film’s romantic comedy themes.
This was so much more than a romantic comedy though – the presence of the film itself is a huge statement against the decades of racial exclusion we have faced in Hollywood, and a love letter to Asian America as a whole. *Crazy Rich Asians* spoke to us and told us our stories matter.
Note: there are spoilers of the movie ahead.
1. The Soundtrack’s History
The soundtrack choices created a fantastic tribute to Chinese staples that made the film feel authentic, and has had me playing it at all hours of the day. My dad could not stop smiling and singing along to 我要你的愛 (Wo Yao Ni De Ai) and Can’t Help Falling In Love. “You know, Daddy was really young when this song came out?” he kibitzed, “this is a classic Chinese song!”
Thanks to my coworker at Pandora, I was able to learn a bit more about some of the pieces in the film. For example, the snappy jazzy piece 我要你的愛 sung by Jasmine Chen (Wo Yao Ni De Ai – Listen On Pandora) is a cover of a song by Lan Ge (stage name Grace Chang, Listen On Pandora), which itself was a cover of a jazz classic “I Want You To Be My Baby” by Georgia Gibbs (I Want You To Be My Baby on Pandora). This is just a wonderful celebration of music history.
There was also a heartfelt and political push to use Coldplay’s “Yellow” as a way to reclaim the historically disparaging term thrown toward Asians. Those thoughts were aptly summarized by director John Chu in his letter to them here: https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/crazy-rich-asians-read-letter-convinced-coldplay-allow-yellow-movie-1135826.
2. Cantonese and Mandarin Dialogue
I was thoroughly surprised to hear Cantonese in the first excellent scene (where Michelle Yeoh’s character is taken aback with some lightweight racism at a London hotel) because going into the film I assumed that the entire Chinese dialogue would primarily be in Mandarin. As a kid growing up in a Cantonese household but taken to a Mandarin Chinese school, I had always been given the messaging that Mandarin was China’s future. While that may be true about China, I was happily the film still paid homage to both by conducting itself in both dialects. As a matter of fact, it does a great job balancing speaking Cantonese and Mandarin at various points and weaving them together. It left me wondering whether that was a deliberate decision as a nod to the golden age of Hong Kong’s film industry past.
3. The Nuance in the Mahjong Scene
When my wife and I took my mom, my mom joked that this movie would not be a true Asian film without Mahjong. There was some great nuance in this scene. For example, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) was invited to sit in the Eastern chair, with Rachel (Constance Wu) sitting in the West. My dad even commented during the film how remarkable that scene was: “Rachel had the winning hand, but she gave up the game so his mother could win”. Read Jeff Yang’s article (Link here) to learn more about the importance of that scene.
4. Conversations on Asian Authenticity
A major theme I was satisfied to see discussed was the question of what was authentically Asian, and who had authority to dictate that definition. To Eleanor, surely the ABC (American-born Chinese) Rachel was not the definition of what Asian was, and to Rachel these Asian 1%-ers were out of their mind if they thought their obsession with status and face was normal and what was expected out of an Asian partner. In other words, Asian did not mean Asian American, a critical distinction made at multiple points in Eleanor’s dialogue. I felt by the end of the film, Eleanor accepts a more expansive definition of what Asian, and therefore what is good for her son, should be: what is Asian is multifaceted, transnational, and encompasses the diaspora of all its people.