Leaving the theater for Crazy Rich Asians, I couldn’t help but feel like all the articles and podcasts and panel discussions had somehow culminated in this one movie. I feel like I’ve been screaming from the rooftops for something just like this. Why did it have to take 25 years for this kind of major studio-backed all-Asian movie? In absolute truth, it’s not just good for an “Asian” film. It’s just plain good. And it is exactly what we needed.
On the surface, it’s a family-drama/love-story. Almost like a classic fairy tale. Poor (aka middle-class) girl bags a monstrously rich prince. Rich family disapproves. Hilarity and heartbreak ensue. It’s Maid in Manhattan, Pretty in Pink, and Pretty Woman. To quote Jeff Yang, “I’ve seen ‘Crazy Rich Caucasians’ a billion times.” As a rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians stands up. It’s a thoroughly universal love story.
It is also as fun and fabulous as one might expect for something that’s titled “Crazy Rich.” The costumes and couture are stunning, and the extravagance is beyond compare. Michelle Yeoh as the matriarch Eleanor Young has cheekbones for days and her wardrobe is just as sharp. Gemma Chan’s costumes are an Asian fashion icon’s dream. Everything from the set to the sound is top-notch feature film-level high end. And Singapore doesn’t disappoint. Truly, this movie could be promoted as an extended commercial for Singaporean tourism. Just the montages involving food are enough for me to buy a flight over. Everything about the movie screams feature-film-romantic-comedy.
But don’t get it twisted. The “Asians” in the title are not forgotten. Though it’s a “Western” feature film, it was certainly made with Asians and Asian Americans in mind. The movie touches upon all kinds of issues that Asians know all too well: old money, family connections, social status, matriarchs, accents, and so much more. I got to see the movie at a press screening in NYC with a mixed audience, and again at a pre-screening with a mostly-AAPI audience. And on the first night there were jokes only I laughed at, and on the second night, the crowd roared and gasped at the inside jokes that only Asians would understand. Because, while this movie looks like it was made with all audiences in mind, the nod to the Asians in the room did not go unnoticed. As I told NOC OG Keith Chow, the film is simultaneously universal and Asian AF.
How do I begin to describe the perfection that was this cast?
Michelle Yeoh is Everything
Henry Golding, Chris Pang, and Pierre Png are walking, talking thirst traps, complete with British accents. Constance Wu feels like the Asian American every-woman. And if Nico Santos and Awkwafina don’t become the breakout stars of this movie, I’ll eat my Supreme hat. Ken Jeong even got a second swipe at accents, poking light at his decisive role in The Hangover.
I’ll be completely honest, I had the rep sweats. What if Henry Golding, in his acting debut, couldn’t actually act? What if Jon M. Chu, who’s mostly directed sequels until this point, couldn’t pull it off? My fears were swiftly assuaged. What I got was a movie where I could see myself, and simultaneously be whisked away on a fantasy. When Nick and Rachel pig out on street food, I saw myself and my friends when we pig out on, well, Asian street food. When Rachel, with her Asian face, is shamed as an American foreigner, when she’s told she’s not enough, I saw myself. Her relationship with her Chinese mom is like my relationship with my Japanese American mom. When Awkwafina, Nico Santos, and Sonoya Mizuno were onscreen, I saw reflections of my friends.
At the same time, I’ll never be that crazy rich. Rachel was a version of me onscreen on a fantasy trip. I got to go on an outrageous romp vicariously through her. And there were all types of Asians represented, from party Asians to business Asians. I left the theater and couldn’t help thinking “is this what white people feel like all the time?”
My friend, Nathan Ramos, described Black Panther as seeing yourself as more than you thought you could be. And Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t do that. However, Crazy Rich Asians does speak to an Asian American experience the way Black Panther spoke to the African diaspora. But it is not the “Asian Black Panther;” it stands on its own merits. The feeling of never being enough, Asian enough, American enough, fluent enough, successful enough, that’s what the Asian American experience is. It’s about standing in two worlds and being spread too thin, about being an outsider in your homeland and your motherland. This movie didn’t shy away from that feeling; it solved for it.
Crazy Rich Asians is about seeing yourself, as exactly who you are now, as enough. And for me, a Hapa that’s never really seen myself onscreen, that’s all that I ever wanted. Now someone pass me some dumplings!