Crazy Rich Asians, released on August 15, is a film directed by Jon M. Chu and adapted from Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel of the same name. The film debuted at number one at the box office, making $25.2 million in its opening weekend. As of Labour Day, the film has made $117 million in Canada and the United States, becoming the highest grossing romantic comedy in almost a decade.
Crazy Rich Asians is the first major Hollywood film in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club (1993.) With a $30 million budget, there were many expectations for the film to perform well, as its reception could impact future Hollywood productions with casts consisting primarily of people of colour. The film exceeded expectations, gaining the number one spot in its opening weekend. According to Warner Bros’ domestic distribution head, Jeff Goldstein, 38 per cent of ticket buyers for the film were Asians––a stark difference from the usual 10 per cent that buy tickets for films on opening weekends––highlighting the importance of diversity in mainstream media.
The film centers Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor who travels to Singapore for her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) friends’ wedding, only to discover that he is extremely wealthy. Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), considers Rachel to be of a lower status, an unfit match for her son, causing a culture and class clash for Rachel.
Tropes of the romantic comedy genre are woven in throughout the movie––the makeover, the Cinderella dynamic, the comic-relief sidekick. Though these may be tired tropes in the genre, there has never been a Hollywood film with Asian leads playing them out. In this case, these tropes are original, deserved, and welcome. Crazy Rich Asians also has more nuanced aspects, such as generational family relationships, immigrant experiences, and the bond between a single mother and her daughter.
Though the scenes portraying lavish parties, mansions, and extravagance in general are noteworthy, the film’s true charm shows through Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh’s solid acting performances. The soundtrack, featuring many Chinese as well as English songs, is also remarkable, and features a wide array of artists, including Awkwafina, who stars in the film as Rachel Chu’s friend, Peik Lin.
Crazy Rich Asians currently holds a 93 per cent rating on review site, Rotten Tomatoes. Although it has been praised by many critics, there have also been some voices of dissent, particularly regarding the erasure of the Malay and Indian population of Singapore. In an article for Wear Your Voice magazine, Sangeetha Thanapal, a Singapore-Indian activist and writer, notes her frustrations regarding the film. “The only Brown people in the movie are opening doors or in service of the elite Chinese in the movie. Minorities only exist in the periphery of the film. Why is this being lauded as revolutionary?” writes Thanapal.
While representation and diversity are important, discussions about the accuracy of these representations are equally important. It is hardly realistic to expect one movie to portray an all-encompassing Asian experience––which doesn’t exist. In terms of casting controversies as well, with Henry Golding being half-white, and Korean-American actors Ken Jeong and Awkwafina playing Chinese characters in the film, questions about interchangeability arise. Again, it is unrealistic to expect perfection when it comes to firsts. Crazy Rich Asians may not be perfect, but it is a stepping-stone—a big one––towards better representation and the evolution of Hollywood as we know it.