The Real Problem with Crazy Rich Asians

No, it’s not just an issue of “Asian representation”
by Kit Chua
Asian TakeawayAugust 23, 2018



Crazy Rich Asians’ biggest problem isn’t its failure to represent All Of Asia. No movie can do that.

No, it’s biggest flaw is much more fundamental: while serving up plenty of laughs, ooh and aahs, Crazy fails to deliver on the basic promise of a romantic comedy – to make you go ‘awww’.

P.S. Spoilers ahead.

Ok, I’ll admit, when the lights went down in the cinema and the gigantic Warner Bros. logo appeared on screen, it sent a little shiver of delight down my spine. It is nice to see a major Hollywood studio back all these Asian faces. Ooh, all the “representation” feelings.

But – let’s just get this out of the way – Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a win for Asian diversity. Or Asian-American diversity. Or Singaporean diversity. Not when every member of the cast (except for Kris Aquino, who appears as Princess Intan) is playing a Chinese person. Newsflash: Chinese is not equivalent to Asian.

If anything, we could perhaps call it a win for (East) Asian talent in Hollywood, because there are a lot of beautiful people in Crazy. And it is nice that they’re all non-white. Now Hollywood knows that (East) Asians can be sexy, relatable, funny, charming and, most importantly, bankable. And maybe if we can train white people to spot the differences between Henry Golding and Colin Khoo, we can eventually train them to recognise that not all Asians look alike. Yay!

But unlike North America, where the dearth of Asians on the big screen might make this movie genuinely life-changing, all Singaporeans really care about is seeing our city properly represented in a Hollywood movie. Not as some futuristic/dystopian city (ahem, Equals) or as some exotic location for an action sequence (*cough* Agent 47).

When it comes to that, Crazy did get some things right – The variety of accents. The cultural nuances between Singaporean Chinese and American-born Chinese. The texting scene featuring “alamak”, “kantang” and “lah”. The slow pan over a rainbow array of kueh-kueh in Eleanor Young’s kitchen. The “ku ku jiaoooooo”. All good stuff.

When it comes to representing Singapore, though, you can’t get away from the fact that literally all the Indian people in this movie were either security guards or valets! We might have spotted one nameless North Indian guest at the wedding scene, but… come on.

Do these super-rich Chinese Singaporeans really not have any non-Chinese friends? What about all those super-rich Indonesians/Malaysians/Bruneians that the Young family does business with? What about the Salims (technically still ethnically Chinese, but oh well), the Nasimuddins, the Bolkiahs? No invite to the Youngs’ tan-hua-blooming-viewing party? Damn, are crazy rich Chinese Singaporeans really that elitist?

But, of course, “Crazy Rich Chinese Diaspora” would have been a really boring book title.

If you look past that (which maybe you shouldn’t), the bigger problem with Crazy Rich Asians is that it’s fundamentally not even a very good romantic comedy. Sorry. Independently, Henry Golding and Constance Wu do great jobs channeling Nick Young and Rachel Chu. But together, the chemistry is meh. Seriously. When Nick and Rachel stare meaningfully into each other’s eyes and mouth “I love you” at each other across a crowded room, all I could think was, “Hmm, is Constance Wu’s makeup so messed up because she had to do this take ten times and cry each time? Or is it because Singapore’s heat just melted her makeup off her face?”

Oh well. In a movie with this many characters, this many expectations, this many stories to tell, I guess something’s got to give. In the end, Nick and Rachel’s love story takes a back seat to the crazy opulent world that swirls around them, and the truest love we get in Crazy comes courtesy of Michelle Yeoh and Tan Kheng Hua serving some good old Asian-mom-love. Pity. But on the bright side, at least Crazy Rich Asians 2 is all set to follow Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her mysterious man (Harry Shum Jr.) on their path to crazy rich true love. Now these two… I’m sold. Nick who? Rachel who? Bring on Crazy Rich Astrid. Who cares about anyone else?

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