Is Crazy Rich Asians Enough?

I have now seen the movie Crazy Rich Asians 3 times. What can I say — it’s a great movie. Awkwafina is hilarious, Constance Wu is brilliant, and Henry Golding is attractive. But something I hadn’t taken into account until recently is that maybe it’s a little too simplistic. I’m not here to bash the movie because at the end of the day, it was a HUGE win for Asian Americans. But it was exactly that: a win for Asian Americans. What never crossed my mind, though, was how it portrayed Singaporeans. Once again, I still believe this was a landmark film in increasing representation in Hollywood. As director Jon Chu said a while back, it’s a movement. While the movie has enjoyed massive success and shed light on a non-white cast, some people still think it could’ve gone even further.

Take this quotation from a profound article on Vox, “While it’s definitely significant that Hollywood is finally producing an all-Asian film, the anticipation for this film demonstrates that representation can mean different things to different groups of people, and that there is a divergence between the needs and priorities of Asian Americans and Asians in Asia.” I couldn’t agree more. Here, as a Singaporean of Chinese descent, author Kirsten Han touches on how she felt the film was flawed in more ways than one. What she wrote next made me come to another realization. In western films, we really only see Asia depicted in 1 of 2 ways: as “rising Asia” with modern architecture, servants, and next-level wealth, or as an extremely impoverished place with a lack of social mobility. When I think about the films I’ve seen with an Asian cast in the past year, it totally fits the description. In one of my personal favorites, Parasite, we see this deeply-entrenched divide between the rich and the poor. In Raise The Red Lantern, we see extreme generational wealth and tradition. While I loved both of these films and I actually think they did a great job with representation, it makes me wonder. Is Orientalism at play here? Is this really an accurate depiction, or are these over simplistic?

In other western movies, what we see of Asian countries is very little. And what we do see motivates these 2 narrow stereotypes. We see overwhelming markets with foods that seem foreign to us, tech-savvy people, expensive homes, and action movie backdrops. We see a place with more than 4.4 billion people through one, white-washed lens. I think it’s interesting because something perceived so incredibly progressive in the U.S was actually perceived as not diverse enough to people from Singapore.

 

5 thoughts on “Is Crazy Rich Asians Enough?

  1. Monty E

    I agree with you. It is interesting that Americans, and particularly white Americans, like to cling on to movies like Crazy Rich Asians to say “See? We’re doing better!” While I agree with you that the movie was definitely a step in the right direction, the fact that Asians, and specifically the people the movie was trying to represent, aren’t pleased shows that what Americans think are huge progressive steps are really only small steps in the right direction.

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  2. Lily D

    This is a cool outlook on the movie. What you brought up about parasite is very interesting because I don’t think the movie itself is orientalism (because it was made in South Korea) but because of the success of that film I think some orientalism could potentially come out of it.

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  3. Lizzy L

    Wow. First of all, I would like to thank you for bringing this point of view about Crazy Rich Asians to my attention, because I had really never considered it before. I agree that many films and stories set in Asian countries have had narratives about extreme wealth or extreme poverty.

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  4. Kirsten K

    I love this movie, and if you like the movie I highly suggest you read the books. I think you bring up an important point, we really only see Singapore as this high-class wealthy stuck up place and we really only see people that aren’t the main characters act this way. While the movie did represent and people whoa re usually passed over. They were still portraying Singapore in a very orientalist way. It is the same way in the books, which do not really even talk about anyone but the high class and how almost everyone in Singapore is of a certain wealth, only focusing on a singular inner circle of the rich and famous.

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  5. Alexis S

    Your blog post is very real. I never thought about Crazy Rich Asians in this way, and now I realize I should. It was a very utopic film, which usually is the whole point of a rom-com movie. But what is the next step? We should not just stop here. I agree with you, the movie is very enjoyable to watch, but I think the film industry can take further steps, however this was a step in the right direction.

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