Crazy Rich Asians – More Lazy than Crazy I say…
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
Spoiler : I hated it !
In fact I felt quite uneasy the entire time I was watching this gold and glitter laden extravaganza. I mean, I don’t exactly have a picture of Lenin hanging in my bedroom, but after watching scene after scene of gratuitous conspicuous consumption I felt a little dizzy. More importantly, having spent some 20 years of my life exploring the rich and deep cultures of Asia, it seemed to me that Crazy Rich Asians was a lazy Hollywood film ladling out a bunch of fat clichés.
Firstly, it was hard to see whom it was representing exactly ?? The film starts with Napoleon’s (in)famous (and overused) quote about China “China is a sleeping giant - let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.” How this is related to the tiny city state of Singapore is not very clear. (Yes, I know some 70% of Singaporeans trace their origins to China, but so do a couple of other millions of overseas Chinese )
Moving on to the cast, it was very mixed to say the least - Henry Golding, who is English-Malay, plays the Singaporean lead, and in the one scene where he speaks any Chinese, he orders from a Singaporean street stall in a sharp Beijing accent for some reason (put some La Jia’r on that !!! ). Chinese-American rapper-actress Awkwafina comes across as …well, a Chinese-American rapper, and the only one who brings some Singaporean flair to the table, local actress-DJ-comedienne Koh Chieng Mun, is only allowed to utter one little phrase in Singlish (apparently she was ordered to pronounce her mispronunciations clearly.)
Basically I felt I was looking at a Banana cast with very thin yellow skin, and at a “ Chinese story” told in a Western way. Western audiences weren’t trusted to handle too much Asian authenticity, so instead of the ethnic variety, street markets and public housing that make up Singapore, they get served up with only a few sparkling and exotic landmarks. (Yes, I know this film is about the 1%, but even in Pretty Woman there are some views of LA streets ?! )
To be fair, Asian audiences are equally treated like simpletons, as the few white roles in the film are walking clichés, and the supposed reversal of world power is presented in a very black and white, over the top way. In case anyone has not noticed the rise of Asia, the hotel in which the lead Singaporean family arrives during the film's opening scene is bought by them later in the same scene via a 2 min phone call, ( followed by Eleanor Young ordering the white “meanie” to mop the floor .) JFK airport is described as offering only “salmonella and despair” vs. Changi’s butterfly garden, and at a meal scene a Singaporean father admonishes his children to eat up their meal because “ little American kids are starving“… Subtle stuff, what can I say!
Lighten up ! I hear you mutter, it's a Romcom for pity’s sake ! Yes, ok – but in the that case I didn’t find this film “ funny” light” or “cute” either …
So is there anything valuable in Crazy Rich Asians ? Well, I guess it is good to see a major film which is for once not all about white people with a few token ethnic roles. The film also puts some interesting dilemmas center stage ; such as the intra- Chinese divisions between American Chinese (represented by Rachel Chiu) who have absorbed Western individualism, and other Chinese ( represented by Matriarch Eleanor Young ) , who stayed aligned on Chinese traditional family and group values. Extra bonus : these two women are the best actors in the film and come across as credible.
But can someone please explain to me why, after the touching denouement, where Eleanor finally “ gets it” and sends her soon to be daughter in law (good luck with that, Rachel !! ) her own engagement ring , Rachel and Nick go straight back into the bosom of this incredibly superficial, vacuous and back biting little group they were escaping from ?