August 19, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

Sometimes the things that mean the most to us are the most difficult to explain or articulate. Case in point: this movie. But I'll try.

Asian-Americans have long been overlooked in media representation. This is not to say other marginalized groups have not also been ignored, or that Asian-Americans have it the worst. It is not a contest. (If it were, let's be honest, Native Americans would win.) Growing up, two of my favorite movies were Mulan and The Joy Luck Club. They are, of course, both excellent movies in their own right, but its is difficult to estimate how much of my regard is due to the fact that those were the only two Asian-American movies I saw as a kid. Literally. The only two.

So when I settled into the theater on opening weekend and heard the credits open with music with Chinese lyrics and Constance Wu's face on screen, I nearly burst into tears. It was Wonder Woman x 1,000. This is what I have been waiting for. This is what I hadn't realized I was missing all those years.

To watch a movie where the main characters are Asian, but don't speak with stereotypical Chinese accents is, to be quite honest, revolutionary. The fact that an actress like Constance Wu, who plays a mother of three on Fresh Off the Boat, can reverse course and play a young twenty-something love interest, is equally astounding. And to see Asian male actors cast as lust-worthy, sex symbols for a mainstream US audience is something I wasn't sure I'd ever see in my lifetime. This movie transcends the normal movie-going experience into a cultural event--an introduction into Asian culture in a way that doesn't fetishize it. We are shown everything from delicious Singaporean food porn to little insights about Chinese beliefs in "auspicious noses" and "lucky colors." It immerses the audience in its culture and is completely unapologetic about it.

Now, there have been a number of criticisms of the movie, mostly coming from within the Asian community. There are concerns about the erasure of Southeast Asians in a movie set in Southeast Asian (fair) and the glorification of a stereotypical "rich" Chinese person. But here's the thing, guys: one movie can't be everything to everyone. I don't want to dismiss Crazy Rich Asians as *just* a rom-com, but really, it's a rom-com. It's meant to be fluffy and indulgent and fun to watch--all of which it was. No one is gunning for a Best Picture Oscar with this. So why does it get put under the microscope like it is?

Much has been made about the fact that this is the first all Asian-American cast in a movie in 20 years (you can argue about whether or not Better Luck Tomorrow disputes that in the comments). And perhaps instead of picking apart all the ways this movie doesn't represent all Asians, we should be demanding a wider and more varied range of Asian experiences depicted in our movies. Until then, I choose to celebrate an imperfect, but deeply satisfying story that highlights the beauty, variety, and utterly normal-ness of being Asian. (You know, other than everyone in the movie being mind-boggling, disgustingly wealthy.)

Final word: My heart is full 

P.S. I am team Ronny Chieng over Awkwafina all the way. Optimal angles.

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