“So your family is, like, rich?”
“That is exactly what a super-rich person would say.”
Crazy Rich Asians is a movie based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel (I devoured the book in three days along with its two sequels and I highly recommend the whole trilogy, it’s so hilarious and it deals with important themes in a light-hearted way). The movie received much attention due to it being the first Hollywood blockbuster in 25 years to have an all-Asian and Asian-American cast.
It starts off with Chinese-American Rachel Chu going to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick to meet his family. This turns out to be a shocking experience for her, since she finds out that Nick is the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia; he is basically Singapore royalty. Being his girlfriend, Rachel becomes the target of jealous socialites and Nick’s relatives show hostility towards her from the start. Most of the criticism comes from Nick’s mother, Eleanor, who instantly disapproves of Rachel and tries to expose her inadequacy in any way possible.
The movie is unique in its genre, although in some respects it recalls previous Hollywood productions; the huge quantity of designer clothes and expensive items is reminiscent of Gossip Girl, a popular TV show about the lifestyle of rich Upper East Siders, and the grandeur of the party sets reminds the viewer of Baz Luhrmann’s 2013 version of The Great Gatsby.
Crazy Rich Asians is even more extravagant, in the sense that it displays the lives of Asia’s most privileged kids, and everything is often shown and depicted in a satyrical way. This becomes more evident in the rest of the books from the trilogy, which are packed with humour and exhilarating scenes. The movie deals with the concept of wealth and all the privileges that come with it; not only is it a feast for the eyes aesthetically, but also it suggests that wealth is not the key to happiness. This can be observed when Rachel has to deal with the meanness of people around her, who make her feel excluded and tend to isolate her from the very beginning, since she comes from a different background and is not part of the “über-rich” elite.
We get to witness her sense of impotence and alienation while at the same time we feel that it would be natural for her to be accepted; not only is she a kind, smart and loving person, but also she is a successful professor at NYU, a prestigious American university.
Asian-American people with a similar background can empathize with her, due to the fact that they often feel a disconnection from their heritage and the ties with their homeland appear to be quite weak. This can apply to a lot of people; being Italian, I have relatives who emigrated to the United States during the ’50s and I have been told about that feeling of being “neither here nor there”; it is something a lot of people can relate to for different reasons.
Therefore, even though Crazy Rich Asians could mainly be watched and remembered as an enjoyable rom-com that amplifies the lifestyle of the wealthy, it also puts emphasis on the topic of racial insecurities and feeling out of place in a certain environment.
The movie became the most successful Hollywood studio romantic comedy in almost a decade and it went on to be nominated for two Golden Globes; while it is probably due to the fact that it deals with issues of representation and equality, this is also thanks to the cast members and the great chemistry they have with one another. With a sequel rumored to be in the works, Crazy Rich Asians should maintain its prominence for many years to come.
OTHER MOVIES TO WATCH: I would recommend My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002) which made me laugh so much as a kid, and Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013) for the similar but less dramatic atmosphere. TV shows like Gossip Girl (2007 but also the 2021 reboot) and Pretty Little Liars (2010) may be good options as well because of the great designer wardrobe, the overall tone and the twists (although PLL is a lot more darker). If you enjoy movies in which a normal person is romantically linked with royalty or a famous person, you may appreciate Roman Holiday (1953) or Notting Hill (1999).
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