The new romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians, based on the best-selling book by Kevin Kwan gives a fresh new take on traditional Asian stereotypes by giving a modern twist to the film.
While Asian women have been portrayed as submissive and exotic for decades, here we see strong women who play the most vital parts in the story-telling. In a deeply patriarchal continent like Asia, power and reputation are pivotal to family honor. And more often than not, it’s the women who face the most pressure.
The film adaptation follows New Yorker, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) brings her to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. But there is one thing Nick didn’t warn her about: his family is crazy rich. The Young family is one of the wealthiest families in Singapore, and with that comes the deeply traditional family values set on Nick Young and his future in the family business which has long been overdue.
This is the first mainstream American production with an all-Asian cast. But that isn’t the only gamechanger in this Warner Bros. film. Because Crazy Rich Asians dismantles a number of Asian stereotypes. We usually see Chinese in films as ancient and old, but this time, women are depicted as Hollywood-like; glamorous, strong, and confident.
Astrid (Gemma Chan) is Nick Young’s closest cousin. She was portrayed as a strong-willed socialite that hides her newly-bought jewelry from her husband because of his man-ego. Astrid is richer than her husband and that makes him feel insignificant and small. Later, Astrid finds out that he is having an affair and she leaves her husband on her own terms, and the way she did it shows her feminist story arch that will make any woman applaud.
Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is Nick Young’s mother. She is the regal matriarch of the Young clan and a defender of Asian culture. One of the most important values Eleanor upheld in the film was being family first. She looks down upon Rachel for choosing her passion because she thinks it’s ‘American’ ideals. So she deeply disapproves of Rachel’s relationship with her son and she will go through lengths to end their relationship.
While Eleanor thinks happiness is all in the mind, she gives a compelling story to her character that makes her more than an antagonist in the plot. Later in the movie, we understand that she is a mother that cares for her child.
Rachel is an economics professor in NYU. Raised by a single, Chinese mother, she is proud of her roots and is raised to be independent. A fighter throughout the film, she redeems herself as strong despite the harsh ways Nick’s family have shown their disapproval. While there are many scenes that prove how exceptional Rachel is, the most critical one was the mahjong scene.
It was the scene that proves how strong her love is for Nick, so strong that she is willing to let go of him. Despite being so sure that Nick was going to be ‘the one’, she didn’t accept the ring when he asked for her hand in marriage.
In the mahjong scene, Rachel explains to Eleanor why she said no to Nick’s proposal. She says it wasn’t because she ‘wasn’t good enough’ but because she wanted to be in control of the situation and choose for him. She understands that family should come first and despite her suffering for it, the heart of Asian culture is family.
These three women in their storyline showed different ways to save themselves. They weren’t damsels-in-distress and that makes them the very backbone of the film.
Crazy Rich Asians comes out on August 22.