Crazy Rich Asians: Paving the Way for Asian American Representation

Which is more important: family or love? In the movie Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu, an economics professor, and Nick Young are in love. Unbeknownst to her, Nick is an heir to a crazy rich family in Singapore. When Nick asks Rachel to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding, she faces challenging oppositions to their love including jealous exes and condescending and unapproving mothers. Along with being in a lower class, Rachel is “different” from the Youngs because she is American-born Chinese and therefore not worthy enough to marry Nick. Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young, disapproves of Rachel and forbids the relationship, as Rachel is later discovered to be the daughter of her mother’s affair. 

The cast of Crazy Rich Asians, stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Nico Santos, Lisa Lu, Ken Jeong, and Michelle Yeoh. The movie boasts an all-Asian cast,  so it has been criticized for casting main actor Henry Golding and supporting actress Sonoya Mizuno, multiracial actors, for not being fully Asian. Others, however, have argued that they are still Asian so it doesn’t matter. Even in the cast, the movie challenges stereotypes of not being “Asian enough.” Anna Yip ‘20 commented, “I wanted to watch the movie even before knowing its significance of a Hollywood movie starred by a full Asian cast. I loved the humorous and touching movie, and loved how the Asian-Americans are making progress in American society, defining our culture and setting grounds for the next generation.” 

In the movie, there are many aspects of Asian culture. For example, news of Nick’s fiancée spreads via WeChat, the popular messaging app, or the Asian “Facebook.” Red envelopes are also referenced in the movie. During Chinese New Year, it is common to give a red envelope containing money, mainly to children, to wish good luck and share blessings. They are also given during birthdays, weddings, and other special occasions. The red color symbolizes prosperity and happiness to ward off evil spirits. In an intense scene, Rachel meets Eleanor in a mahjong parlor to play mahjong, a popular Chinese game of skill, strategy, calculation and chance using tiles, before rejecting Nick’s proposal of marriage. 

Different dialects of Chinese like Cantonese and Mandarin are also prevalent throughout the movie and spoken by many characters. Rachel calls Peik Lin’s mother “auntie” even though they are not blood-related. In Asian cultures, younger generations refer to their elders as “aunt” and “uncle” to show respect and intimacy. In another touching scene, the Young family made dumplings with Rachel. Making dumplings is a common Chinese tradition to bring families together. The movie is about portraying Asian identity and culture to the rest of the world. 

Crazy Rich Asians also speaks volumes to Asian representation in the film industry. It has been 25 years since there was a movie with an all-Asian cast to get a wide release, the last one being Joy Luck Club. It has not been easy for Asian actors to land significant roles in films. “Fresh Off the Boat star” Constance Wu, cast as the heroine Rachel Chu, struggled to make ends meet and faced rejection constantly as a rising actress. Wu shared in a Vulture interview, “About a couple of years before I got Fresh Off the Boat, I was really broke. I was in tens of thousands of dollars in debt: credit card. Car. Personal. Student loans. I paid for my college all myself. I didn’t have a boyfriend. I was really alone and lonely. I was new in the city, and I didn’t have a community of friends in L.A.” However, she decided to continue acting after studying psycholinguistics for a short period.

Wu has mentioned that Asian Americans are invisible in the industry and is quoted on saying, “The thing I most experienced was that the white person had to be the lead, but they needed to say they were being diverse, so the best friend or the assistant was a person of color. It [would be] written nonspecifically, and then they would build the character around whoever they decided would get the part.” She is proud to be involved in the push for more Asian representation and diversity in the entertainment industry, even beginning the hashtag #starringConstanceWu in which her face is Photoshopped onto movie posters to show the lack of Asians in leading roles. This movie has spurred pride in Asians everywhere and promises a bright future for other Asian actors. 

In addition to a lively and entertaining cast, Crazy Rich Asians includes a beautiful and bilingual soundtrack with traditional Mandarin songs. Written originally by Jon Hendricks, “I Want Your Love – I Want You To Be My Baby” or “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” is an upbeat pop song from the 1950s with a catchy beat sung by both Grace Chang, a Hong Kong idol, and Jasmine Chen, a Chinese jazz singer, in English and Chinese. Another song, this time sung entirely in Chinese by Katherine Ho, a former The Voice contestant, is a special cover of the Coldplay’s  “Yellow”. The director, Jonathan Murray Chu, wrote a letter to Coldplay to sign off on the usage of the song in the movie. Chu wrote that he “had a complicated relationship with the color yellow” his whole life and explained that the color had “always been a negative connotation . . . until I heard your song. For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, the love.” Upon reading his letter, the band approved his request. The song was so emotional and meaningful that viewers shedded tears. 

There is finally a story that shares the Asian American experience. Vicky Li ‘20 shared, “At the end of the movie, I was super happy that Rachel and Nick had a happy ever after, especially since I feel like there are some Asians who can’t find their true love because of their parents. I was also really glad that Nick’s mom came to understand their feelings.” For many Asians, this movie has given hope for greater representation of Asians in years to come. Be sure to watch it!

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