Sometimes a film is more than the sum of its parts. It is not just about story, direction, acting, make up/hair, and sets. Sometimes it is important to a whole culture. Films like last year’s Black Panther. It was not just another Marvel film rather it was a clear picture of what it means to be black. Gives a black face to the superhero world. Something that young blacks can see up on the screen and identify with. White faces and experiences have dominated the big screen. To the exclusion of all other cultures or identities. Like they don’t have stories to tell or experiences they have lived.
Now Crazy Rich Asians sets out to do the same for Asians. Its sets a precedent. Paves a path. Not since The Joy Luck Club in 1993 has the cast of film been made up exclusively of Asians. A film which features dialogue in Mandarin, Cantonese and English. It has been a long time coming.
At its heart this is a romantic comedy. With a heroine everyone can cheer for – the plucky, smart girl who is looked down upon because she is not Asian enough, was brought up by a single mother or rich. Relatable. Someone we will root for. The impossibly nice and handsome rich guy, a kind of modern day Prince Charming that all women secretly wishes would fall for them. A fantasy that many of us have had. They don’t have to sell it too hard; it is a self starter.
A film that is easy to like. Funny. That Awkwafina! What a scene stealer! Plenty of opulent sets, clothes, jewelry, and cars. Who would want to live in those houses, wear those clothes or drive those cars? It all seems like too much. And yet the book which the film is based upon was written by Kevin Kwan and he based it upon his life in Singapore. Drew upon his own experiences with the very rich.
What is refreshing is that the film stays away from the stereotypes which the film industry has long spent building. That the women are beautiful, quiet and subservient. Or evil. Or sex toys. Or nerds. Here they are beautiful without being objectified. Smart without being nerds.
Director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Now You See Me 2) does a great job keeping his eyes on the prize. Telling a love story which would not do a disservice to the Asian community. Not as easy as it might seem at first glance. He had to know that the film would be put under a microscope from the Asian community and pretty much everyone else. He also was wise enough to show the variations within the Chinese population. Previously all Chinese were thought of as all the same rather than a population made up of many varieties. All with different looks and different accents. Educate us without us really knowing or resenting it. He also uses the platform he has been given to make a commentary on class. We get to see working class, nouveau riche and old money up close and warts and all.
I forward that the film was not a risk because of the all-Asian cast, but rather because it is a romantic comedy. As a film genre it has not done so well of late. The Asian box office is huge. The size of the fan pool of romantic comedies is ever dwindling. Throwing money towards a film of this type is risky. A risk which was a calculated one and became a crazy successful one. It made a lot of money and hopefully will open the door to more stories from this community.
-Crazy Rich Run
-Audio Commentary by Jon M. Chu and Novelist Kevin Kwan