As of this week (at least in my area), the beloved Crazy Rich Asians is slowly leaving theaters. By now, your feeds have been flooded with praise or criticism about the film that nearly took over the internet this past month. It was the first production with an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club twenty-five years ago and doesn’t portray Asian actors or characters in your stereotypical Asian roles (nerd, kung-fu fighter, etc.). I originally planned to post this when I first watched the film, but I waited this month because I wanted to make sure my sentiments stayed true after the craze. So here we are!
I walked into the theater with two friends one late Saturday night with zero idea about what this movie was about. The only things I knew were:
- It was about Asians.
- One of them was filthy rich.
- The mother did not approve of the girlfriend.
- Shoutout to Constance Wu who’s also Taiwanese!
I left the theater, cheeks streaked with Lancôme Monsieur Big that I desperately tried to wipe off with my hands. To me, this movie isn’t just a fun rom-com where Gatsby meets Asia. This movie touched very sacred territories for me.
There were three main things addressed in the movie that hit home: the culture, the generational gap, and the implications of wealth.
The opening scene shows the Young family trying to check into a hotel they are about to purchase and own in 1995. They are faced with racist remarks that honestly would make any person with a right mind’s blood boil. It was in that first few minutes that I realized I have never watched anything about Asians (other than comedies) that wasn’t slightly racist.
For those of you who don’t know, both sides of my family have been in Taiwan for hundreds of years. Early in the movie, Nick Young, the lead male, tells Rachel Chu, the lead female, all about his family and what they’re doing across Asia: some were in Shanghai, some in Hong Kong, and some in my beautiful Taiwan. That was the first thing that made my heart buzz with warmth. Throughout the movie there were also bits and pieces of Hokkien or the Taiwanese dialect, a language I listened to my family speak as I grew up. While I’m sure many still speak Hokkien in Southeast China provinces, it’s a language that is more associated with Taiwan. Since China doesn’t recognize Taiwan, it’s not often you hear Taiwanese spoken on film or on TV. So when Rachel spoke a certain Taiwanese phrase that I actually grew up with to Eleanor Young in a pivotal scene at the end of the movie, you can only imagine what kind of ball of emotion I was.
Now, let’s talk about the Chinese traditions that make it to the screen: street vendors, making dumplings, tan hua, the unwavering respect you show elders, game of mahjong.
Street Vendors: Anywhere you go in Asia, the best and cheapest foods are the ones sold on the side of the street or on vendors carts and booths at food marketplaces. In fact, it is a huge part of our culture. Not going to lie, the appearance of these vendors’ stations would probably make our Department of Health keel over and pass away on the spot. Nonetheless, it’s home to the most delicious and authentic Asian food you will ever have and honestly not that unsanitary. Seeing Nick greet the vendors the way my grandparents greet the vendors back in Taiwan made me miss Asia and the friendships you create around a simple meal.
Dumplings: Making dumplings is a tradition the Youngs hold very dearly. Eleanor Young, the mother of Nick, says that Ah-Ma (grandma) stresses the importance of passing on traditions generation after generation. Even though I grew up in America, making dumplings is a family activity that every Asian family I know embraced. No matter how old I get, I will always beg my mom to buy the ingredients and attempt to fold them as beautifully as she does. Seeing them talk about this tradition warmed the kid inside of me.
Tan Hua: This is the name of the flower that bloomed at Ah-Ma’s garden party. They’re stunning, only bloom at night, and have a very short life span. I personally relate to the flower, as I feel like I’m the most inspired and alive when the sky is dark. But the familiarity of it stems from seeing them as a kid during my summers in Taiwan. My mom and aunt were always so ecstatic whenever we came across them in Taiwan, but I didn’t realize how special they were until I watched the movie.
Respecting Elders: I’m sure you know by now, elders are the most respected in Asian cultures, especially in Chinese culture. You don’t dare to disrespect them. Elders have not only lived longer and experienced more but sacrificed for the next generation. Seeing the respect and adoration Ah-Ma got in the movie made me want to run over to my own grandparents and give them a fat bear hug myself, as they’ve lived a long life that I highly admire.
Mahjong: I LOVE mahjong. This is a popular game and gambling game across China, Taiwan, and some other southeast Asian countries. Both Eleanor and Rachel say that they learned the game from their mothers, signifying that it is a skill that is passed from generation to generation. Now for those of you who don’t know how to play the game, the scene where Rachel gives Eleanor the winning hand before revealing her tiles is crucial to the significance of their conversation and the ending of the movie.
Eleanor was never truly accepted when she married Nick’s father, a fact she shares with Rachel. However, she returns the coldness to Rachel despite going through the same hell herself. When Rachel tells Eleanor that she will have her, a lowly immigrant bastard child, to thank when she happily watches her son with the “right” wife, she gives her the winning tile Eleanor needs. Eleanor wins, revealing her tiles only to be shocked to see Rachel’s tiles. Had Rachel kept her tile, she would have won the game over Eleanor. Instead, she chose to give up that winning tile and hand the victory to Eleanor, signaling that she could have won the war by scoring Nick and winning the Mahjong game but she was no longer interested in playing in Eleanor’s game. To those who grew up with the game, this was a brilliant way to draw everyone’s personal relations with Chinese traditions into a crucial scene in the movie.
THE GENERATIONAL GAP
Growing up in America has programmed my brain to have an “American” setting and an “Asian” setting. It’s one of the reasons why people who only see me in social settings often categorize me as a “banana:” yellow on the outside and white on the inside. Others who’ve seen me with family or at family friend gatherings would say I’m actually very in touch with my roots. But the truth is this: In America, I’m Asian. Back home in Taiwan, I’m American. Neither will see me as their own, or as Rachel says “gah gee lang” which is Hokkien (also known as the Taiwanese dialect) for “our own people.”
However, this is not the same for my parents or any immigrant Asian parent in the United States. They identify as their ethnicity, even in America, and have a place that feels like home where they’re not considered different or a bit of an outsider. Because of that, I found that most immigrant Asian parents I grew up around have no problems identifying themselves or feeling like they belong somewhere whereas we spend our lives slightly more conflicted with what exactly we identify with. It’s actually one of the reasons why I believe many American-born Asians feel more comfortable around other American-born Asians because we often share the same sentiments when it comes to identity.
If you’re want to learn more about the thoughts of many Asian-American females on common stereotypes or our sentiments on fitting into the world we grow up in, check out my friend Michelle’s blog.
THE IMPLICATIONS OF WEALTH
Crazy Rich Asians comedically but accurately painted the difference between old money vs. new money in Asia. This isn’t something we’ve never seen before, e.g. The Great Gatsby. But that novel took place in America where there are no government restrictions like those in China or other Asian countries. I’m sure you’ve noticed by now that everywhere you go, salespeople flock to Asian tourists or Asian immigrants in stores, and all registers have some sort of equivalent to Apple Pay for those tourists. This is because the wealth of select groups in China and all the other Asian countries is growing exponentially by the minute. In my humble opinion, which can totally be wrong so feel free to correct me, Peik Lin’s family is a portrayal of the newer rich. From the gaudy “Versace/Trump bathroom” inspired home to the noticeable contrast in their relatively crass behavior versus the poise of those with “old money,” I think the Jon M. Chu and the writers of the screenplay not only nailed the differences between the two types of wealth while providing great comedic relief.
But then we also see the less fun side of wealth in Astrid’s marriage, Eleanor Young’s story, and Colin’s chat with Nick. Wealth and anything money related is always a sensitive subject regardless of whether it’s in real life or a production. Money can truly manipulate people. Money can ruin relationships. Money can make or break your life.
I’ve always been drawn to stories about the wealthy, especially ones about the complications that come with wealth or the demise of the wealthy. It’s not because I’m bitter that I’m not a billionaire or wish I grew up in designer dresses. It’s because I’m so intrigued by how something that is technically a medium for exchange backed by something we deemed as “precious” or “valuable” (bars of shiny gold) can alter the way we behave and think.
For some who are often short a few dollars, having money means security. For some who grew up with tens of thousands to spare, money is just there to help them sustain their high standard norm. For me, it represents a lot of pain. I hate money. I hate the drama it’s caused in my family and the scars those episodes have left in my mind when it comes to handling and perceiving money. I grew up in the upper-middle class. My mom’s family was much like the Youngs of Taipei. My dad on the other hand was far from it. I’ve seen money turn the less fortunate side spiteful, mean, and jealous. I’ve seen money turn the very fortunate side use money to feel powerful or to manipulate others to get what they want. Eventually it turned everyone into monsters and honestly ruined everyone’s relationship with each other with the exception of my mom, aunt, and I. I also know I’m not alone in these sentiments, as I’ve seen similar behaviors in other families as well.
I’m not going to go into detail about my personal issues with money but I will leave it at this: Michael and Astrid’s marriage is based off of Michael always having to prove his worth due to his upbringing and Astrid having to hold back who she is. The dollars in their bank accounts drastically affected who they were and their marriage. Eleanor Young spent her whole life sacrificing her happiness for money and family, but what true joy did that bring her? Colin and Araminta are a great match, but even he admits that the marriage wouldn’t exist if both families were not powerful and rich. Money comes first before the person.
While it seems silly that I’m taking the stories of these fictional characters so seriously, it can’t be a more accurate reflection of society. I’ve seen attitudes change based on discovery of financial background to the point that person is being defined and judged by his/her bank account balance. I’m nowhere near wealthy – hell I just graduated a year ago – but I’ve received comments filled with preconceived notions by people who suspect – not even confirmed but just suspect – that my salary is higher than theirs. Growing up in a relatively well-off area, I’ve seen how some people treat those who came from the wealthier bracket. My mom always taught me to invest in nice staple pieces like a good handbag or winter coat or laptop. I’ve stopped taking it personally when others would comment, as I realize it always traces back to the implications that society created around things that represent “wealth.”
Money is just a paper tool for exchange. I know I’m slightly hypocritical for saying so since I hold my dollars tightly, but it really shouldn’t be given the weight we give it when it comes to relationships with others. Both individuals’ and society’s implications and expectations behind the paper that drives people in both powerful and detrimental ways (which probably won’t change ever), and this production touched upon many of the most personal ones, at least for me.
Agree? Disagree? Or just loved the movie because it was a great rom com? Let me know in the comments below! Until next time, bisou bisou…