I would like to introduce you all to Jenny Korn. You can read about how amazing she is right here.
Hers was one of the most insightful updates I’ve read about Crazy Rich Asians. There have been tons of hot takes about this film, but I truly feel Korn’s perspective is one that is needed — It’s measured, smart, funny, and bite-sized enough to get a full picture of the film, without spoiling anything. What is does for me is ask hard questions — something I don’t think fans do enough of.
I cannot overstate how unusual (unfortunately due to entrenched, racist stereotypes trying to represent Asian men as undesirable) and delightful (look at Henry Golding without his shirt on!) it is to see my Asian American brethren depicted as freakin’ hot. I’m talking unabashedly represented as the portrayed as the sex symbols they are, with various states of undress and intimate scenes with Asian American women. I counted at least four times. Just sayin’. But I will also say that the men in this movie are not developed well as characters (in particular, I wish they had given more screen time to “rainbow sheep” Nico Santos).
The strengths of the movie are Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh. I am not using hyperbole when I tell you that there’s a scene in which Michelle is helping her son Henry Golding with his shirt, and she gives this face, just a dadgum facial expression, that made me cry because it contained so much emotion. Similarly, y’all had better look for the “I will cut you” face of Tan Kheng Hua too. Great acting by both mamas, y’all. I also am not gonna say that Michelle Yeoh’s character is the “villain.” But we don’t gotta choose between Team Rachel and Team Mama Young…do we?
The movie’s center is the tension between Team Rachel and Team Mama Young; yet, they are both still centering Henry Golding’s happiness over their own. The movie does a good job of showing how each generation of Asian women accepts, rejects, and plays out cultural constructions of femininity, marriage, and (in ways that need to be unpacked in a future academic publication) feminism.
LOCATION and CLASS
Like New Orleans, Louisiana, for the movie Girls Trip, the location of Singapore plays a role in just about every scene of Crazy Rich Asians. I’ve never been to Singapore. Its opulence is highlighted. The scenes are unreal. I mean, one was of a boat floating atop of buildings, and my wise Asian seatmate next to me, leaned over and said, “That’s a famous hotel.” Y’all. What kind of hotel looks like that? One I will never ever be able to afford. Which is the point of this movie. “Crazy rich” comes across.
I chuckled at the wedding scene, and you might too, because it is over the top with “how else should I spend money to make everyone drop their jaw that sees this wedding?” The accumulation of wealth here is depicted unproblematically, but a neoliberal capitalist critique of consumerism should be inserted here when this film is used for teaching. Crazy-rich shows up in what many Americans will identify as class differences. Also, please, please do listen for the one zinger of a line about America.
The movie is making a larger point than only class. It’s talking about culture, Asian collectivism vs. American individualism. That’s not just about how Americans define class, but more importantly, how Americans view the position of the individual vis-à-vis family. And this movie is all about parenting. Honestly. Constance Wu is told by her mother the same thing I’ve been told by my parents: I look Thai. I speak Thai. But I think American. And many of us in immigrant families that grow up in this country have parents that have had to learn how to navigate that cultural difference between countries of origin and countries of emigration, at the same time we as their children are developing our identity as both Asian and American.
BLACKNESS and ANTI-BLACKNESS
Blackness and anti-Blackness have informed this movie. We have Awkwafina, an actress that got her break in acting because of rap songs she wrote and performed that she posted to YouTube. Is her persona in the movie appreciation or appropriation of Black culture? In addition, the portrayals of “dark-skinned” people tend to appear as South Asians in the movie, all in roles of subservience, with a problematic scene about rolling up car windows in fear.
I enjoyed the emphases on food. I want to eat every day in the food court they featured. For real. A different stall for each day. But please know that the best satay is made in Thailand, not Singapore. That point is not debatable. In addition, there’s an important scene with everyone making dumplings, and I remember learning how to make them with my family, with my parents teaching me, in another connection to what it is to be Asian American.
The majority of songs featured in this movie will be familiar to American audiences, at least in melody. The content is now in Chinese, while keeping the outline of the song intact, to make the musical selections accessible to Western viewers. Except for the wedding song, which is sung in English. That song has personal significance to me as it has shown up in the lives of Mama and Papa Korn, and my brother and sis-in-love, so yeah, major tears.
All of the Asian women that are in the generation of Constance Wu are slender, all over their embodiments, a point that is made into a crass “joke but not really a joke but is really an insult” in the movie. There are larger Asian women in the generation of Michelle Yeoh, and those of size are depicted as comedic characters. Old trope, y’all.
I know this movie can’t be everything to everyone, which is why we need more movies about Asian Americans that reveal diversity in our body types, skin colors, religious beliefs, sexual orientations, and ethnic origins. And please make an Asian American Sista on the big screen that has progressive politics. Because I’m still waiting for an Asian American movie character that might actually inspire the next generation of Asian Americans.
You can follow Jenny Korn on Twitter @JennyKorn