Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic comedy by filmmaker Jon Chu, showcases lavish sets and beautiful, rich people. Set against the exotic and ultramodern backdrop of Singapore, the film rewards its audience with an uplifting modern day fairy tale. But what makes this Hollywood film stand out, is its all Asian cast and the clear message: Not all Asians are the same.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s book of the same title, the film starts with a young Asian couple in New York. Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, an Asian American economics professor at New York University. Nick Young is from Singapore. Having dated for over a year, the couple is starting to get serious about each other but have yet to take the next step. NIck, played by Henry Golding, invites Rachel to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Nick’s idea is to introduce Rachel to his family.
As the couple sets out for Singapore, what Rachel does not know is that Nick is the scion of one of the city-state’s wealthiest families and one of its most eligible bachelors. Before she even gets there, her picture has gone viral on social media, and as soon as she arrives, she becomes the target of many wealthy young women who aspire to marry Nick.
Nick’s formidable mother Eleanor Young, played by Michelle Yeoh, feels that American-born Rachel, played by Constance Wu, is not suitable for her son. She rejects the young woman’s American values of independence and self-determination as an affront to Singapore’s traditionalist values.
Rachel’s and Nick’s relationship unfolds against the sophisticated backdrop of the Asian island’s exotic landscape, and mouthwatering culinary creations. Their relationship is tested but grows despite the antagonism and cruelty Rachel faces from Nick’s mother and her snobbish friends.
Throughout the bitter sweet roller coaster, the cast features funny, quirky, and serious characters, among them, Hip Hop artist Awkwafina. She plays Peik Lin Goh, Rachel’s former roomate and friend from the States now living in Singapore. Peik Lin helps navigate Rachel through various cultural hurdles and provides comic relief. The cast is impeccably dressed, impossibly rich, and all of them, Asian.
Lead actress Constance Wu touts the all Asian international cast of the film. “I love the fact that we have Asians from Australia, from England, from Costa Rica, from America, from Singapore, from Malaysia, we have Asians from all over.”
Wu says the film moves away from the clichéd image of the Asian as a disenfranchised minority in the US. “So frequently Hollywood thinks that Asians are this one monolith. Like there isn’t a difference between Asian Asians and Asian-Americans. Or British Asian, or Australian Asians. And there is a difference! Because there is a cultural difference. The fact that this movie really differentiates that, it’s something that doesn’t happen a lot.”
The film’s message and its lavish cinematography appears to have paid off. Crazy Rich Asians has become a box office hit – elevating the hopes of cast and fans that Asian actors are finally becoming part of Hollywood’s mainstream. A day after the film’s premiere in Singapore, Victoria Loke, who plays wealthy socialite Fiona Cheng, spoke to VOA about the film’s success.
“During filming,” she said, “we never really thought about how big an impact that was going to make. So many Asian-American audiences have messaged us separately as actors, our director, our producers, thanking us for having a stake and being a part of this representation of the Asian American community.”
Despite the film’s box office success, Loke said it also has had its share of criticism.
“There has been a lot of conversation in Singapore and Asia about how this film only represents the 1 percent of Singapore: she said. “There are a lot of people who don’t relate to that. This is about Crazy Rich Asians, it’s about a very small niche, and of course there will be lot of fair criticism about the fact that it doesn’t represent fully the entire population. ”
Representative or not, the film has played to sold out theaters in Asia and the U.S. And Victoria Loke confirmed that the film has already been green-lighted for a sequel.