Crazy Rich Asians: A Critique and Review

By: Vivian Li

How do rich Asians live? What about crazily rich ones? I’m sure many people have heard of or seen the film, “Crazy Rich Asians,” by now. I had conflicting views about it, and while I did feel represented by the all-Asian cast, I did also have quarrel with the film’s storyline. For instance, I struggled to find reason to connect with the characters as they seemed too perfect. Nick Young is handsome, rich, and unlike his traditional mother, doesn’t care about Rachel’s poor family background. The only potential flaw he has is being too devoted to his mother, but even then he tries to mitigate the conflicts between his mother and Rachel. Moreover, I wanted the characters to grow somehow, to develop or learn something more about themselves, but instead I found that the storyline was mostly centered on plot, and on the issue of whether or not Rachel and Nick would end up together. This, of course, is a perfectly fine direction for a film to take, but I would have to say that based on the reviews and the glowing recommendations I got from friends, the film fell short of my expectations.
However, to me, the question of whether or not the film met my expectations is different from the issue of Asian representation in Western media. Growing up, I couldn’t find many books or movies from Western countries that made me feel represented, or that I could connect to. I was always peppered with descriptions of “hazel eyes, that changed and glimmered like the sunlight hitting against water” or “blue like the sky” but I never found the combination of “golden skin, dark slanted eyes, dark hair.” Whenever I wrote stories, it was important to me that the protagonists of my stories were Chinese, even if I didn’t explicitly state their nationalities. I believe that if this film came out five or so years earlier, I would’ve found it a defining moment in my life. Moreover, I loved the cultural references, from dumpling-making and mah-jong (which is a surprisingly addictive game). In today’s world, especially with other films centered on Asian culture and background, such as Pixar’s “Bao,” I felt that the representation and awareness of the Asian community in Western media has improved compared to its state a few years ago.
However, this leads me to some other debates that I’ve read about, including an article about this film completely obscuring native Singaporeans and other people living in Singapore, providing more voice to the already rich Asians. I have to say that while I do appreciate diversity and especially representation of my own culture in places where it has been lacking before, I also believe that diversity is only diversity if you acknowledge other cultures as well. Although this is a difficult task to do, I believe that acknowledging the different diversities across the world is vital to open communication and conversation between people around the world. While I do not wish to criticize the film for not showing and portraying other communities in Singapore, I do hope that future films will portray diverse representations of all cultures, and that films will be socially conscious in their own cultures while acknowledging the importance of other voices. After all, most of us have felt the emptiness and despair of our voices not being heard, and we would not wish the same thing upon someone else.
There are other views to this argument as well, as a friend of mine noted that the film, as a Romantic Comedy, has fulfilled its expectations and cannot be expected to do more than that. However, I believe that film has a very powerful and almost hypnotic presence in the world—one that can shape and change expectations of many people. As an artist, I personally feel that one of the creator’s roles is to bring about socially conscious and effective representations of their subjects for those who know little about them.
Tying up the ends of what I discussed earlier, and as a potential starting point for future conversations around “Crazy Rich Asians,” I would invite people to think about the purpose of the film, and the film’s ultimate goal. If “Crazy Rich Asians”’ goal was to increase diversity and representation of Asians, as well as to make it popular to a large audience, thus paving way for other directors or actors to adopt a similar concept, I would say it has reached its goal. However, although the film has satisfied me in terms of representing my own culture in Western media, it has not reached some of my other expectations, including representation of other diverse voices. In conclusion, the issues and conversations surrounding diversity in film are still necessary, however, given the stepping stone that films such as “Crazy Rich Asians” has set, there is reason to believe that we will see more racially-diverse and culturally appropriate films in the future.