“Crazy Rich Asians,” my personal reflection

The theater lights dim and the opening scene begins.

The year is 1986, and a Chinese family, soaked from the rain, walks into an elegant London hotel. The concierge, horrified that the family is tracking in mud and water, demands they state their purpose. The Chinese mother, speaking perfect English, asks to check into her reserved rooms. The concierge replies that there is no reservation and suggests they leave. He does not even allow the mother to make a call to her husband, betraying his racism and classism. As the family is forced outside, the mother makes her phone call. When they walk back in, she informs the concierge that she has just purchased the hotel, and is now the owner.

From this first scene in “Crazy Rich Asians,” it was clear to me that the movie was about the ultra-rich.

Based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel, “Crazy Rich Asians” tells the story of Rachel Chu, a young Chinese American, traveling with her boyfriend, Nick Young, to visit his family in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, however, Nick is part of the country’s wealthiest family.

As the film introduces me to more and more of Nick’s friends and family, I see the rich, crazy rich and downright crazy aspects of their lives. Director Jon M. Chu successfully highlights the extravagant and luxurious lifestyle the Young family has, while also capturing the sheer wealth, power and classism they exude.

Henry Golding, who plays Nick Young, will appear in “A Simple Favor,” a thriller being released later this month.

“Crazy Rich Asians” is a ground-breaking film in more than one aspect. The film’s first two weeks grossed over $83 million here in the United States (Box Office Mojo), proving that an Asian cast can have a broad audience appeal.

Historically, Hollywood has hired white actors to play Asian roles.

However, unlike Mickey Rooney’s racially stereotyped portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast At Tiffany’s,” Scarlett Johansson’s role in “Ghost in a Shell,” Jennifer Jones as Dr. Han Suyin in “Love is a Many-Splendored Thing” and Matt Damon’s character in “The Great Wall,” “Crazy Rich Asians” had an all-Asian cast. Let me remind you that the last film to feature an all-Asian cast was the “The Joy Luck Club” — and that was 25 years ago. Due to the film’s diverse casting, I was able to revel in the representation and in the fact that, for once, Hollywood didn’t whitewash the story.

One of the film’s strongest elements is the original motion picture soundtrack, supervised by Gabe Hilfer and the director. It is comprised of traditional and contemporary Chinese songs, covered by various Asian artists. Of the few songs performed in English, most of them are about money or love. The soundtrack as a whole, however, takes on a 50’s and 60’s vibe.

The original motion picture score, composed by Brian Tyler, does an outstanding job of highlighting comedic scenes with upbeat, loud and spontaneous rhythms, and softening romantic scenes through intimate, slow and climactic instrumentals.

I always give special attention to the soundtrack and score of a movie because music directors and composers are often underappreciated. The primary role of music in a film is to add to the mood and action of each scene. When a movie and its music suit one another, my experience is heightened, sometimes subconsciously. “Crazy Rich Asians” not only did this but did this well. The effect is the same as Louis Armstrong’s rendition of “La Vie en Rose.” His style and arrangement of the song fit perfectly with the words and meaning. A further aspect of my experience with the film was a sense of familiarity, which I can only attribute to the fact that I heard Mandarin during the first 8 months of my life.

The costume design of “Crazy Rich Asians,” by Mary E. Vogt, is lavish, elegant, bold and new– not that I would expect anything less. As current as the fashion is, however, traces of traditional Chinese wear are still present throughout the movie, creating a nice sentimental touch. The accessories and attention to detail given to each character also add to their individual personality and story arc.

Constance Wu portrays Rachel Chu in “Crazy Rich Asians”. In 2017, she was included in Time’s 100 most influential people in the world for her acting skills and social activism.

I left the theater with several revelations.

Throughout the movie, women in the Young family are expected to sacrifice their personal wants and needs for their parents or the male figures in their life. Because of this idea, Rachel, who has a satisfying career, is deemed “selfish” for following her ambition.

This is widely different from the concept of the American Dream, which is briefly mentioned in the movie. During this part of the film, I felt a connection to Rachel because she loved and honored her mother while still pursuing her passion.

The Young family’s prejudice against Americans revealed an aspect of nationalism I hadn’t previously considered. As Americans, we generally expect to be welcomed into any country, even if we don’t return the favor. But now, I can see some of the same xenophobic attitudes about Americans in other countries. Honestly, I think we deserve it.

The theme that Asian-American does not equal Asian is also reflected in “Crazy Rich Asians,” but means so much more to me. Being adopted from China and growing up Asian-American means that my values and hobbies in life are different from those actually living in Asia. There’s no doubt about it. Whenever I get the question “don’t you want to go back and see what everything is like?” my answer is always this: as much as I think getting to know more about my roots and culture is important, I don’t necessarily feel as if I need to travel back to China in order to do so. However, it was definitely an adventure going to Singapore via “Crazy Rich Asians.”


Photos courtesy of Creative Commons