From the sheer hype that the local media was stirring up about Crazy Rich Asians, you could be forgiven for believing that it was the coming of the movie messiah. And it seems that most of the Western press loved the movie as well with warm reviews from most major publications. But how does the movie resonate with the average Singaporean? Does it portray Singapore accurately? Or is it a carefully manufactured facade to show the absolute best Singapore has to offer?
The storyline is a worn out cliche. Starring Henry Golding as the ultra eligible bachelor Nick Young and Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, an NYU economics professor of humble background and upbringing, the story clings to the safe harbour of an established plot that you may be familiar with.
Not so rich person and uber rich person fall in love. Not so rich person finds out a partner that is wealthy. Not simply wealthy but Marcus Crassus level of wealthy, meaning filthy freaking rich. Culture shock, both partners run into trouble in gaining acceptance from their family and friends, uncertainty ensues, then suddenly a Disney style happy ending occurs.
Haven’t we seen this before?
Don’t get me wrong, there is absolutely nothing wrong if you don’t re-invent the wheel, as long as you make it a damned good wheel. Crazy Rich Asians however, adheres almost slavishly to a template set in place by its forebears and as a result, ends up being entirely predictable.
It was disappointing in this regard as I was hoping to be thrown for a loop or at least see a proper spin on a proven formula. Neither of these happened.
There are a few secondary plot lines that do happen in the background. They were interesting and it was clear it was meant to accentuate the main plotline, it was odd however to have a similar story to the main plot running parallel with each other.
Starring Astrid (Gemma Chan), the cousin of the main character and her husband Michael (Pierre Png), the sub-plot is also a familiar story of infidelity and insecurity leading to a predictable outcome. I did enjoy the sub-plot pretty well though and if there was ever a spin-off created starring these secondary characters, I’ll definitely be keen to watch that movie.
Even for one such as I who almost never watches local television, there were many familiar faces. Fiona Xie did a great job at playing a bimbo of negotiable virtue, Michelle Yeoh perfected her look of sheer disapproval so well that I was brought straight back to the first time of showing my mom a poor report card and Ken Jeong brings his great comedic talents to the show even turning a tired old American joke on its head.
However, there are some serious flaws and while mine may be a controversial opinion, I feel it has to be said. The portrayal of Asians at times did not feel very Asian. Nearly everyone in this film spoke flawless, unaccented English. In fact, if I closed my eyes and listened to just the audio, it would be indistinguishable from other Hollywood films. As the movie went on, I was praying for Phua Chu Kang to leap out and bring the Singlish hammer down.
And every single shot of Singapore was a hardcore glamour shot. It felt suspicious as if the tourism board was hovering over each shot as an invisible overlord to ensure each shot was as perfect as possible. But clearly it has worked, literally every Western media outlet comments on how “gorgeous” the money and glamour shots of Singapore were.
But any average Singaporean knows that Singapore is more than MBS, Gardens by the Bay and the Newton Circus hawker centre. In fact, most Singaporeans I know dodge Newton Circus as it has developed a reputation for being a tourist trap. A stereotype reinforced by the same Western media saying how good the food looked.
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If you’ve been reading online opinions of the movie, you may have seen the term “Affluence-Porn” being bandied about a lot. Is it true? Damn straight its true. Every house is garishly opulent, yachts, helicopter rides, whole islands being booked out for parties and a lavish meal being called “simple food”. It is so overwhelmingly opulent that it almost feels like you are viewing how an alien species live.
It took a while for me to realize what felt “off” about the movie before it finally hit me. The movie was presented according to Anglo-American norms. Old money, a distinguished family line, marriages beneficial to the family and many more. It even mimics the disapproving matriarch who views Rachel Chu as an “outsider” irrevocably tainted by her American upbringing and therefore, unworthy. This felt odd as at the start of the film, The matriarch, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) was ostracized herself for being an immigrant to a new country.
To be frank, it felt like it was a quintessentially white Hollywood movie with an Asian cast.
However, this may actually be what the film intended as the director, Jon M. Chu has always wanted to show “this idea that old, classic, Hollywood movies could have starred Asians with just as much style, just as much pizzazz.” But this has the effect of making certain Asian aspects of the film seem like an afterthought and therefore, unrelatable. There is a dumpling making scene that seemed weirdly out of place for a family that is so anglicized and waited upon hand and foot.A movie
A movie worth watching
But, despite all that, I actually enjoyed it. Maybe it’s because I’m Asian and I’m Chinese so I may have an inherent bias. The great performance from Constance Wu drew me in and kept me engaged in an otherwise mundane retelling of an old story. It is clear that they were really excited to make this movie and to represent a minority in a major Hollywood film and that infectious enthusiasm shows through strongly.
I was rooting for the story to end atypically and honestly, felt it would have been a refreshing change. However, it opted to go for a fairytale ending of opulence ever after. Oops, I meant happily ever after. Ah well, maybe the second part will be better.
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