On the surface, “Crazy Rich Asians” can appear to be a superficial, fluffy movie set in obscene opulence. Besides, it’s not exactly “Oscar material”. One might argue that at the end of the day, it’s just a rom-com.
But as the first major Hollywood movie featuring an all-Asian cast in 20 years, it means so much more than that. Growing up Asian-American with a strong relationship to my cultural roots and identity, I immediately understand the significance of this milestone. As the movie finally arrives in France in a few weeks, it’s fair to ask if it will impact a European audience in the same way. Will it mean as much to French-Asians as it does to me? And will the larger French audience appreciate it as much as they do in America?
To be honest, I can’t answer that question at the moment, but I look forward to the conversations that this movie will spark. For many of my fellow Asian-Americans, seeing a reflection of ourselves in a Hollywood film was a significant victory toward making Asian voices heard and seen. Sure, it didn’t (and couldn’t) represent every single Asian story, but for those of us who have largely felt invisible in American society for so long, the massive success of the movie gave us tangible proof that we can be the heroes and stars of our own stories.
Having lived in France for almost five years sharing my life with a French-Asian partner, I’ve realized that one significant difference between Asian-Americans and French-Asians is that the latter feel and identify as French first, whereas the former often feel it the other way around.
Cultural representation and diversity are cornerstone conversations in American societies because of our existence in multicultural communities, whereas the French believe in a unified French identity. That being said, I am curious to know what French-Asians will think of the film, and if it will provoke an emotional reaction for them like it did for me and so many other Asian-Americans.
Time will tell, but as we prepare for the movie to come to France, I want to dispel a few assumptions that you may have about the movie, in hopes that it will inspire you to get excited for its arrival.
A few disclaimers: A) I’ve already had the pleasure of seeing the movie in New York a few weeks back, so I know what to expect. Don’t worry, I won’t give away any spoilers! B) I was a fan of the book trilogy by Kevin Kwan before the movie, and just like any film adaptation, the movie only captures a fraction of the book. But it’s still a crazy fun ride nonetheless.
First off, don’t let the title fool you.
Yes, the movie is about some very wealthy Asians, but the story is a lot richer than that. The story is meant to be a snarky satire about the overly privileged 1%, so if you go into it knowing that, you can rest assured that there’s more beyond the surface and it’s not all meant to be taken seriously.
At its core, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a story about love, family, and culture.
Sure, it’s centered around a love story, but it’s not just a romantic one. It’s also a story about the love between a mother and son, and the Asian sensibilities that influence how that love is shown. Plus, despite her role in a less serious film, Michelle Yeoh’s performance resonates another kind of gravity and strength that we don’t often see in her martial arts movies (fair to say this one is her “crouching tiger mom” role).
All-Asian cast with diversity
Second, despite it being an all-Asian cast, the diversity in the characters’ upbringing across Asia, Europe, Australia and America is reflective of the vast reach of the Asian diaspora. What I most appreciated about the books and the films is the representation of a third culture world that many globally minded, well-traveled people can relate to and find a home in, an ideal that I think Europeans are much more accustomed to because of their proximity to different countries.
For example, Nick, the main character, was raised in Singapore, brought up in a British school, and ends up in New York falling in love with a Chinese-American woman from Queens. The intersections of cultural identities, upbringing (and accents!) brings a richer dimension to the global Asian experience, something that I think many of us who end up abroad with mixed heritage families can deeply relate to and appreciate.
Grand expectations for a rom-com
Lastly, it IS a rom-com, but it’s a pretty good rom-com. Sure, it’s not perfect, and while a lot of pressure has been laid on “Crazy Rich Asians” to represent the whole gamut of the Asian experience, it is impossible to expect the movie to tell every single story.
As Michelle Yeoh said, “It’s just an appetizer to a glorious feast.”
Who knows, it might just surprise you. One thing’s for sure: it’s a record-shattering, barrier-breaking movie, which is opening more doors for Asian writers, actors and actresses and directors. I can’t wait to hear and see how France will welcome it.