Spoiler Alert Please don’t read this post if you haven’t seen the film and hate spoilers. I will be unpacking the film by looking at the politics behind the story-line. I found the film laugh out loud funny and felt inspired to write this post. It’s a romantic comedy about a “poor” (she’s a economics Professor at Yale) women named Rachel Chu . Rachel falls in love with a wealthy man Nick Young. She doesn’t know his extremely wealth and goes with him to attend his friend’s wedding. Nick’s family lives in Singapore and I will say the location shots of this film are a visual masterpiece. Basically the film deals with class division and the influence it has on people’s daily lives. Overall I’m over the moon that a film with a total Asian cast has finally been made. I remember watching the Joy Luck Club when I was a kid; the film is now 25 years old and is the only other mainstream Hollywood film which features an all Asian cast. I loved watching Crazy Rich Asians but, I did have my politics graduate hat on whilst watching and I didn’t like some of the depictions on the screen. I’m going to start off with what I didn’t like then unpack what I loved about the film.
The title in itself is problematic. Now before you go yelling Nikki you’re a snowflake, let me tell you I’m living in Cape Town during the summer and if I were a snowflake I’d melt. I also live in a country with mass inequality and racial divisions. If I were oversensitive, I’d be filing lawsuits every single day. The word crazy is normally used to put down people who suffer from mental health issues. My eldest brother who passed away when I was in my teens was Schizophrenic. He was ridiculed and shunned by many people. I have another brother who was born with a mental disability because the doctor left my mom to give birth alone. He got stuck in the birth canal and was born dead. He was revived but, the loss of oxygen led to him being unable to have a full conversation with us. He can hear, walk and say some words for the most part he can’t sit around and chat with me. He hates physical contact except for handshakes and cannot care for himself. I rarely talk about any of this because I don’t need pity. I love my brothers and I am certainly not ashamed. But, I hate how people stare at my brother when we go out in public. And how some people laugh at him because his disabled. People attach meaning to words and the word crazy is meant to hurt. So yeah Mega Rich Asians could’ve been the title in my opinion.
New Money versus Old Money
In the film old money is portrayed as glamorous, and the epitome of style. Nick’s cousin Astrid purchases a pair of earrings for 1 million dollars. Astrid always looks regal and she’s got a heart of gold. Nick’s entire social circle always looks like they have been styled by Anna Wintour. Nick’s family has inherited their wealth, they are the old money group. Then there’s Rachel’s friend Peik Lin. Peik Lin’s family are newly rich. And it irritated me that new money was constantly shown as vulgar. Peik Lin’s living room was styled by drawing inspiration from the Palace of Versailles and Trump’s bathroom goodness. The joke is funny, and then it gets bad when the family sits with Rachel at the dinner table. The two young daughters are told to finish their chicken nuggets. There food isn’t as classy as what Nick’s family eats. There are far too many dishes on the table. One of the male characters slobbers and chomps down on his food so fast that it’s disgusting to see him eat. I understand how this played out to be funny and I laughed along to. And then I thought what if I was newly rich would I be laughing. Is it a true reflection of what people would see me as? Vulgar, ostentatious needing to show off my new found wealth like a child showing off her new toy.
Romantic comedies are always rife with rampant sexism. On the all round Crazy Rich Asians isn’t that bad when it comes to the sexist tropes. Still they made an appearance. Peik Lin’s dad comments on Rachel’s ass saying how good it looks. And he does this at a dinner table in front of his two little girls. Then there’s Peik Lin’s brother who takes photos of Rachel without her permission. He does it throughout the film and at highly inappropriate times. Rachel is the main female lead in the film still she gets objectified.
The bachelor and bachelorette parties are also typical; the guys have a rager on a boat with model looking girls. The women go shopping; have spa treatments and dance on a beach among themselves. Not a single hot guy in sight. My cousin had a male stripper at her bachelorette party. Women are diverse just like men are and having every film portray men as stripper obsessed and women as non sexual unless they are in stable relationships is unreal and stupid.
Black sassy accent thing
Using an American sounding Black women accent at times in the film felt cheesy and downright exploitative. Peik Lin uses this accent at times to make Rachel feel better. She motivates her by adopting an accent which she doesn’t pull off well. It doesn’t even fit with the narrative so I’m still confused as to why it was added.
Singapore’s class division
My biggest issue with the film was its ignoring the class inequality in Singapore. Nothing is ever mentioned. Now I know this film was geared at Asian Americans but it could’ve been have had more depth by unpacking some of Singapore’s politics. Singapore is always described as clean, orderly and gorgeous. It is also the richest South East Asian country. This doesn’t mean that poverty doesn’t exist. Filipino women often go to Singapore to work as maids. Many of them report that they are abused by their bosses. A couple was arrested for abusing their maid. They starved her according to reports.
Aljazeera has reported that maids have been offered as commodities. Malls in Singapore display signs advertising cheap maids. Stereotypes are used to describe Filipino women as less bright in comparison to Burmese maids making Filipino maids cheaper. Only 200 of the recruitment agencies for maid in Singapore are accredited and there’s an estimated 1000 agencies (Esmaquel II, 2014). There’s gendered class inequality in Singapore which is leaving immigrant workers vulnerable and not once does the film deal with this issue. Yes it is a romantic comedy and talking about these kinds of issues may have dampened the mood. However, the film does deal with discrimination of Asian Americans without dampening the mood.
Promoting food culture
The opening scene to Singapore is filled with food, delicious looking street food to be exact. The characters indulge in local food and Nick tells Rachel that it’s probably the only place in the world were street food gets Michel Herbelin ratings. This film made me want to immediately pack my bags to go eat in Singapore.
The location shots
Several key places in Singapore are featured and it looks magnificent. Seeing natural beauty blended with high rise buildings on screen like that made me feel happy. At times the film felt like a perfected tourism promo for Singapore. And as a traveler I didn’t mind that at all. It’s not done to market Singapore in a in your face way. It’s stylishly pulled off. And I suspect that tourism is going to hit Singapore hard as a result of Crazy Rich Asians.
Making romantic comedy accessible
Romantic comedies are always described as fluff. Now I’m not saying this movie isn’t fluffy. I am saying that it is fluff with a big difference, the casting of an all Asian cast, mildly touching on Asian American identity and heavily on class division is something that doesn’t normally get screen time in major Hollywood films. The movie had social media buzzing. It made people talk about the experiences of Asian Americans. It also made people talk about romantic comedies in general. For me watching something silly doesn’t make anyone an idiot. We should be allowed to indulge in silly films and books. I try to read and watch more things with important messages in them. But, sometimes a constant negative stream of news in my country and internationally can be overwhelming. I am politically active, I sign petitions, attend marches, I even work for a NGO. And when I need a break I turn to watching a film like Crazy Rich Asians.
Dealing with identity
Rachel is not considered Chinese enough because she grew up in America. She says in one of the scenes that she cannot speak Cantonese. Her view of herself is that she perfectly embodies being Chinese as she’s a economic professor. Nick’s mother Eleanor doesn’t see it that way. She believes that Rachel is an outsider. That her American values such as wanting to put desire and happiness in front of family responsibility does not fit into the culture of Singapore.
I highly enjoyed how women were shown on screen. Some were smart, funny, kind others were petty, mean and vindictive. A range of female characters with different styles and personalities were shown. And they all had bold personalities. The minor sexism aside I loved how women also owned property, created economic policy and were strategically bitchy. Who can resist falling in love with a well written bad character?
Now I know the film is showing off wealth and in a sense it gets the viewer to want a piece of that. You are rooting for the Rachel to attain that wealth albeit through ending up with Nick. I’m only human and I can’t deny that I loved some of the outfits onscreen. There are dreamy dresses, sparkling jewelry and over the top style at times. This movie is aimed at women and women’s style is emphasized. Some of it was too much for my taste overall the stylist for this film knocked it out of the park for me.
By far the best thing of the film is its representation. Asian characters are so often replaced with white actors. I remember my boyfriend telling me that Tilda Swindon would be in Dr. Strange and that she would be his teacher. He thought I was going to be women. And my response was argh no. I admire Tilda Swindon she’s a phenomenal actress. On the other hand I hate white washing. Ghost in the shell which I was crazy about was ruined by casting Scarlett Johnson as a Japanese women.
I remember watching Black Panther on its opening day in South Africa. People dressed up in traditional African attire or as Black Panthers. There was applause during certain scenes when Xhosa was spoken people titillated. And I still get emotional thinking how much it resonated with everyone in the film. Not only with Black people. There was a white guy sitting with an African shirt similar to what my boyfriend was wearing at the time. It wasn’t about appropriation and it wasn’t about Black is better it was such a joyful moment. Because of Black Panther I now have an inkling of what it must have felt like for Asian American’s to see strong, intelligent women who looks like them on screen. The influence this film will have on little girls and on the entire Asian community is immense. It shows that Asian people have the right to be represented and that Asian stories are funny, intelligent whilst being relatable.
For more information see:
Esmaquel II, P. (2014). Philippines to probe ‘budget’ maids in Singapore, from: https://www.rappler.com/nation/62002-philippines-budget-maids-singapore
Thank you so much for reading. Did you watch Crazy Rich Asians did you love it or hate it. Let me know and feel free to comment. I love reading comments on my blog. If you want advice, to collaborate online or just chat drop me a comment, message or email.
xxx Nikki xxx