What happens when you combine all the underutilized token Asians from sitcom television into one movie? Pure comedy gold.
From established actors like Ken Jeong (“Community”) and Michelle Yeoh (“Star Trek: Discovery”) to the up-and-coming Awkwafina (“Ocean’s 8”) to misused supporting characters like Ronny Chieng (“The Daily Show”) and Jimmy O. Yang (“Silicon Valley”) to the face of a new era of Asian-American representation on television, Constance Wu (“Fresh Off the Boat”) — “Crazy Rich Asians” has them all.
The movie, based on the 2013 book trilogy by Kevin Kwan, follows Rachel Chu (Wu) as she accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding, “A Simple Favor”) to his home country of Singapore. She soon realizes Nick is not your average New Yorker, but the heir-apparent to one of the richest real estate families in Asia. Traditional and modern values clash as Rachel, an ABC (American-born-Chinese), tries to fit in with Nick’s family — particularly his intimidating mother, Eleanor (Yeoh).
At this point in Hollywood representation, the main focus still lies on undermining stereotypes, rather than making race secondary to the characters themselves. In an ideal world, an Asian character would just be a character, free of the burden to hold up a positive, progressive image of their race.
Promoting diversity as the selling point of a movie returns the target audience to white people or, in the case of “Crazy Rich Asians,” all non-Asian demographics.
While non-Asians or non-Asian-Americans might view some of the caricatured supporting cast in the Kevin Kwan adaptation as defying stereotypes, this is not quite the case. Instead, the film mines deeper caves for stereotypes, some recognizable only to those who have been immersed in Asian culture and heritage.
Of course, stereotypes are a trademark necessity of filling out the cast of a romantic comedy, where screentime for sidekicks are minimal and, as a result, characterization as well. The flaws of “Crazy Rich Asians” has everything to do with the rom-com format itself and not the fact that Asians helm every aspect of the film.
There’s the predictable plot, outlandish romantic gestures, refusal to engage in serious politics, but also the impressive aspects of rom-coms: Gatsby-esque set design, believable chemistry between the leads and zingy one-liners.
“Crazy Rich Asians” feels at times like an opportunity for non-Asians to venture into an “exotic” world Hollywood has ignored since its beginnings. However, the all-Asian cast in a blockbuster film made buying a ticket to this film still incredibly emotional.
Reviewers (percentage-wise mostly non-Asian) walked on eggshells around this film, refusing to strike down the issues with rom-coms in fear of undermining the importance of this turn in representation.
For people looking for a solid rom-com, “Crazy Rich Asians” delivers, not buckling under the pressure of a history of underrepresentation. However, in terms of the quality of the film itself, “Crazy Rich Asians” is just another rom-com, though that may be its greatest accomplishment to on the road to equality.