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Crazy Rich Asians

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Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy based on Kevin Kwan's globally bestselling book of the same name. To be honest, I had not read the book before seeing the movie. So I saw the movie with fresh eyes with no preconceptions. (I had not even watched any previews.) I was not necessarily impressed by the film, but the positives overall outweighed the negatives, especially as it pertains to the perception of Asians.

This story is about Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu), a college professor in New York City, who falls in love with Nick Young (played by Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to his home country of Singapore (whose population is mostly Chinese) to meet his family and attend his best friend's wedding. Rachel doesn't know much about Nick's family, and it wasn't until their flight that she finds out that he is from a rich family. A little after they arrive, Rachel visits her old college roommate, Peik Lin Goh (played by Awkwafina), who also resides in Singapore after moving back home after college. During dinner at their house, Rachel find out that Nick is actually part of one of the richest families in Asia, and he is the expected heir to the family business. This of course gives Rachel additional anxiety in meeting them. Although Rachel is Chinese, she was raised in America. So there is the question of how well she will be accepted by Nick's traditional family. Plus, given that she is not from a prestigious background, there is the issue of how she will be viewed by his family members and friends.

Crazy Rich Asians is one of only a few major films made for a predominantly American audience that features an all Asian cast. As such, I expected there to be at least some stereotypical Asian jokes, especially since this is in part a comedy. But to my surprise, there were none. Instead, although Chinese culture was a large component of the film, the stereotypes were much more about the "Crazy Rich" aspect than the "Asian" aspect. In fact, the movie could be titled "Crazy Rich People", and it would have worked just as well.

Not only does this film not perpetuate Asian stereotypes, I think many components of the film actually debunked many of the cliché perceptions of Asian cultures. For example, there are a noticeable number of shots in the film that purposely show the fit bodies of the film's male leads, breaking the stereotype of skinny, nerdy Asian men. Also, the film features some amazing sights in Singapore, places which aren't often showcased in American films. They weren't the usual historical sights associated with Asian culture, but places which demonstrate how far Asia has come in terms of technological advancements, including what is usually a mundane place like the airport. And lastly, remember the classic holiday movie A Christmas Story? In it, when the mom was trying to get her son to eat, she said "Randy, will you eat?! There are starving people in China." This was a common saying of that era due to the perception that China was a poor third world country. To be fair, that was somewhat true at that time. But oh, how those times as changed. This was emphasized by one of the funniest lines in the movie. During dinner at Peik Lin's house, her father (played by Ken Jeong in his usual zany fashion) said to his daughters "Eat! There are starving children in America!”

Besides breaking stereotypes, the film also brings to light a topic that many people are not aware of. There is a difference between Asian cultures and Asian American culture. As an Asian American myself, I was heavily influenced by my Asian heritage, traditions, and ways of thinking. But at the same time, I grew up watching Tom and Jerry after school from which I learned about American slapstick comedy. So I was also heavily affected by my American surroundings as well. Therefore, like many Asian Americans, I consider myself a cultural hybrid which is different than traditional Asian cultures.

For the most part, none of the performances in the movie were particularly memorable. Constance Wu's portrayal of Rachel Chu seemed odd to be me, but that may be just me. Constance Wu is best known for her role as the overbearing mom on the television series Fresh off the Boat. So perhaps she has been typecasted in my mind, and I had trouble seeing her as a New York bachelorette. Michelle Yeoh delivers her usual flat, stoic performance. Ironically, her character of Eleanor Young calls for just that, a traditional matriarch who is obsessed with how she and her family are perceived. So in a way, I guess it works. The only performance that stood out was by Awkwafina as Peik Lin Goh. Given that Awkwafina's claim to fame was as a rapper, I did not have much of an expectation. However, her portrayal in the classic role of the funny best friend was definitely a scene stealer.

Crazy Rich Asians follows the same themes of numerous other romantic comedies; so there is nothing especially interesting or surprising. In addition, the fact that ninety percent of the characters speak English with each other (even the older generations) is strange to say the least. However, the film is still very enjoyable, and how Nick Young's mother's feelings are expressed at the end of the movie is quite clever, especially since she wasn't even in the scene.

I wasn't blown away by Crazy Rich Asian, but it was still good overall as it is a nice romantic comedy. Plus, I think it does a good job at showing how the old-fashion stereotypes of Asians are no longer true. So culturally, this film is a step in the right direction.
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