Posted by Jayna Viswalingam
Warning: Spoilers ahead
Crazy Rich Asians is a romantic comedy where the main character Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American economics professor, (played by Constance Wu) accompanies her Singaporean boyfriend Nick Young (played by Henry Golding) to Singapore to meet his family. During the trip Rachel discovers that Nick comes from a prominent and ‘crazy rich’ family from Singapore. She embarks on a journey of discovering and experiencing Chinese Singaporean culture through meeting Young’s family. The movie is laced with classic romantic comedy humour and embraces the usual tropes such as a quest for love, some hindrance and then a reunification where love always wins.
Rachel Chu and Nick Young are lovable characters. Chu is strong and resilient and never loses her footing despite the challenges she faces from his family and friends. In embracing the typical Hollywood romantic comedy genre, the film simultaneously subverts it by including a diverse cast and an Asian setting. What makes Crazy Rich Asians incredibly unique though is two things. The inclusion of strong gender roles and most importantly an inclusion of an all Asian cast. Finally, representation – our calls for representation in Hollywood have finally started to be answered!
I think we can all agree that the strides being made of an all-Asian cast are massive. But firstly let’s focus on an Asian woman who has been one of the few included in Hollywood prior to this movie. Michelle Yeoh is the only Asian bond girl with a main role to this date. She was also a prominent lead in Crouching Tiger. Perplexing as it is that there haven’t been more of an inclusion of strong Asian females, Michelle Yeoh is incredibly important because she’s playing roles where representation is just lacking.
Michelle Yeoh is incredibly important because she’s playing roles where representation is just lacking.
In Crazy Richs Asians, Michelle Yeoh plays Eleanor Young, Nick’s mother. It was played brilliantly and holds to be a powerful exploration of Asian familial values. Eleanor is an elegant but strong character. Not only does Eleanor Young play a pivotal role in the depiction of family values, she is also a boss-ass mother. The father of the family is rarely mentioned and Eleanor clearly runs the family, which I know is the case when it comes to my mother. She’s scary, she’s cold, she’s defensive of Nick and is distrusting of Rachel but at the end of the day she is a mother. She wants the best for her child and family.
The character Astrid played by Gemma Chan was a favourite of mine. The strength shown in the character of Astrid was done so well. Astrid, Nick Young’s cousin, is married to the character Michael Teo. Astrid is shown as being an influential style icon but chooses to try and hide her wealth and influence from her husband who works for the military and is of a lower wealth level. It is revealed later in the movie that her husband is cheating on her.
It eventually results in them splitting up but the most influential and incredible moment of Astrid’s character (and the film, in my opinion) was when Michael says “you know it’s not just my fault that things didn’t work out” and the line she responds with is, “I just realised it’s not my job to make you feel like a man”.
This single line puts together an incredible role of female empowerment in the character. The balance is done so well because Astrid is accomplished and strong but also has moments of frailty such as when she confronted Michael about the affair. She is relatable and resilient and an example of great representation of women in a film.
Male Characters And Sex Appeal
The gender representation in this movie stretches to men as well. It seems somewhat stereotypical that the male leads are very good looking and are often shown shirtless and muscular. However, it is often a stereotype (in Hollywood) that Asian men don’t get to be part of. Asian men in film have faced the nerdy and/or comedic stereotype for decades and it is refreshing to see them gain back their much needed sex appeal to turn over this stereotype and show that Asian men (muscular or not) can in fact be desirable and sexy (shocking!). It’s led on to Henry Golding being named one of GQ’s men of the year, a great achievement for Asian men in fashion and Hollywood.
It is also important to note that the cast has a range of both Asian-Americans and Asians from places like Malaysia and Singapore. Actresses such as Koh Chieng Mun alongside prominent actors such as Ken Jeong as her husband gives representation to Asians all around the world. I will say, however, a criticism of the movie is its lack of representation within the Asian spectrum.
Darker skinned people are often left out of the conversation when it comes to Asian representation in Western media
The only two darker skinned people in the movie (that I noticed at least) were two Sikh guards, the lack of diversity limits the conversation. Darker skinned people are often left out of the conversation when it comes to Asian representation in Western media and we need to start addressing this. I hope that in the sequel of the film, representation is increased and darker skinned people are included.
Fitting Into Western Hierarchies?
A questioning of the movie I have been thinking about recently is the fact that the characters are ‘crazy rich’. It is evident that in trying to rid the stereotype that Asians are ‘uncivilised’ they made the characters wealthy and ‘sophisticated’. It’s like having opulence has led to adopting characteristics of western class hierarchies. The movie hasn’t done well in places like China because the general consensus is that the film is stereotypical and not representative of Chinese culture. On the other hand, perhaps partially conforming is the only way to be heard. When things diverge from the norm, people tend to reject it or feel that they cannot relate and therefore do not appreciate it. But then again does it matter if people are uncomfortable? It’d be interesting to hear thoughts on this.
Through discussions I’ve had with people, it also seems clear that the movie is more suited for Asian-Americans. The movie starts of with this duality of American individualism vs. the collective ideals of the East. It seems that in the end the American vision of love and happiness wins over the ‘unnecessary’ defensiveness of culture and Asian values. Especially in the scene where Rachel lets Eleanor win Mahjong (a popular tile game in Asia), it’s almost condescending that Rachel (representing the West) takes the highroad in order for Eleanor (the East) to realise her mistakes.
An Important Step
Overall a movie like Crazy Rich Asians is so important in our current climate. We need representation, we need strong gender representation and we need more of it. Although there are some criticisms to be made, it is important to understand that every movie will have flaws and the important thing is that this movie starts a journey towards an increase in the embracement of representation. We have much to improve on for the sequel and other movies that work to similar aims but this is definitely something to look forward to.
Jayna Viswalingam is a Philosophy student at Durham University currently on a year abroad in Kumamoto, Japan. She spends most of her time eating and sleeping while simultaneously trying to find ways to redefine society. You can follow her on Instagram.
Featured Image Source: KCRW