Sitting in a multiplex cinema with an audience from all walks of life, I heard a line of Cantonese in Crazy Rich Asians and I could’ve cried as my heart filled with feelings of home and familiarity. The film is about Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, as she goes to visit her boyfriend Nick Young’s family – portrayed by Henry Golding – in Singapore, and finds out they’re part of the country’s very rich elite – the Hiltons of Asia, if you will. It’s a romcom brought forward to the Instagramming, meme-quoting age of 2018 – but it’s so much more than that. Yes, it’ll make you laugh, cry and feel all warm and fuzzy inside – but not just because of the romance and comedy.
This is the first time in 25 years that an all-Asian cast has been on screen in a Hollywood movie. And pretty much the first time ever I’ve ever seen this in my lifetime (hi, I’m 26). Growing up, when people were asked who their favourite celebrity was, I used to say it was Lucy Liu. An actor who’s won numerous awards and is one-third of Charlie’s Angels… But that wasn’t why I chose her. She was always my answer because I didn’t know anyone else in films who looked like I did. The baton later was passed on to Mutya from Sugababes and, most recently, Gemma Chan from hit Channel 4 drama Humans (who is also in Crazy Rich Asians).
Asian cinema is huge and Western society even takes inspiration from it – 2006 crime drama The Departed was a remake of Hong Kong’s Infernal Affairs. But when I used to see the films or dramas that my mum had on the television, their culture, humour and way of life wasn’t one that I related to. Crazy Rich Asians taps into what it’s like to have lived life as an Asian with Western roots. Someone whose family immigrated out of Asia. Someone who’s grown up and thrives in a Western environment. Someone who’s bilingual. Someone who’s got a sometimes-difficult relationship with their heritage. These were things I hadn’t seen in mainstream media before.
Even the little quirks of slang in the way we talk and text that I know from my cousins were now being shown on the big screen. I never knew how I missed out on being represented, until I was.
Seeing my (non-Asian) boyfriend and a diverse crowd laugh, clap, cheer and feel for the characters in the film, I was so proud and happy to be Chinese in a way that nothing in entertainment has made me feel before
Seeing my (non-Asian) boyfriend and a diverse crowd laugh, clap, cheer and feel for the characters in the film, I was so proud and happy to be Chinese in a way that nothing in entertainment has made me feel before. And that’s coming from a girl who used to hide her Chinese name on the register in school, because she was embarrassed that it was different to Katie Smith sitting next to me.
In Crazy Rich Asians, we aren’t the funny sidekick, the stereotypical brainy geek or the token Asian. We are finally being represented, with developed multi-dimensional characters that go through happiness, hardship, drama and everything else in between. We are stylish, strong, sassy, funny – and, yes, sexy. There are the clichéd shots of Henry Goulding’s six-pack as he takes off his shirt in slow motion – and why shouldn’t there be? Here is a handsome guy who, instead of being cast as a martial-arts master, as usually is the case, is the suave leading man in a romcom. And the starring role of Rachel isn’t your typical romcom girl who needs saving. Instead of serving up cupcakes, she is serving lessons as an economics professor. Bye bye, cutesy trophy wife, hello, strong independent woman.
Crazy Rich Asians is a triumphant return for the romantic comedy. This film is a big deal for Asians, of course (even though it’s maddening to think it should be, in 2018), but, while we’re letting you know we’re here, we’re letting our stories – and this film – speak for itself.
Crazy Rich Asians is in cinemas now