Written by Winona Young
There is so much to say about a movie as groundbreaking as Crazy Rich Asians: Things like “representation is so important,” or “it’s okay one movie can’t represent an entire continent,” or even, “was Awkwafina’s accent kind of racist?” But one image of the movie that remains visceral in my mind is one that wasn’t even on the screen.
It was an image I saw as the credits rolled onscreen — while other moviegoers left their seats, a select few stayed. Namely, an Asian kid sitting alone wiping tears from his eyes while he watched the name of Asian actor after another, which was coincidentally the exact same thing I was doing.
Moments like those demonstrate there is definitely a lot to love about Crazy Rich Asians, but that doesn’t mean it’s 100% perfect. For instance, actors like Awkwafina and Ken Jeong do not read as Singaporean to me whatsoever, and stick out like a sore thumb. While the movie is set in Singapore, most of the Singapore shown are the tourist attractions, the film is definitely unrepresentative of the diversity within Singapore’s borders (which is an entirely different conversation altogether). Most especially, the film isn’t a particularly faithful adaptation of the book. But all those flaws melt away when the movie began and I heard an orchestral song rise with a Chinese voice singing clear and pure.
Yes, American actors trying to be Singaporean seem very out of place in a movie supposed to be featuring Singaporeans, but god, they were crazy funny. Which brings me to the many great things about Crazy Rich Asians.
The film features Asian excellence, both new and old. It includes wonderful performances from the likes of Michelle Yeoh and Constance Wu, whose tensions make their relationship so magnetic to watch. Don’t get me wrong, the chemistry between Henry Golding and Wu was off the charts, but Wu and Yeoh’s characters circling each other made their dynamic one of the most compelling relationships in this film.
Not only that, the effort put into the details for Singapore is crazy satisfying to see (I say that as someone who lived in Singapore for several years and know some of the people that characters are based off of). Whether it was the carrot cake ordered at the Newton Hawker centre, or phrases like “Alamak,” hearing lah’s, or even seeing uncles and aunties alike. That, and the movie featured an elegant, and upbeat soundtrack, from the poignant cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” all the way to the jazzy Jasmine Chen’s “Waiting for Your Return.”
Some may argue the film was poorer since it didn’t faithfully follow the book to a T, but to me, Crazy Rich Asians sought out to be a genre-specific film, more specifically, a romantic comedy that dove deep into the dynamic of Asian and American identities. The film took a number, if not many, creative liberties such as cutting out characters, rewriting character details, and adding new plot lines altogether. But thinking of the new scenes and the beautiful shots and performances of these actors, everything added up to an ultimately dazzling film. Crazy Rich Asians sought to fill the void of left by the lack of romantic Asian leads, and more especially, help begin to fill the utter lack of representation of Asians in American film.
But the best thing about Crazy Rich Asians wasn’t its well-crafted shots, the (mostly accurate) attention to detail given to portraying Singapore, or even the fact that it was the first Hollywood film that featured an all-Asian cast since 1993. What stands out is the genuine heart and laughter these actors bring out as their characters, and the fact that Asian audiences can see Asian actors give these performances. Representation the big screen, and moreover, well-done and respectful representation, is by far the most radical and beautiful thing about this movie.