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Crazy Rich Asians checks off every requirement of a romantic comedy: Gorgeous lovers? Check. A wacky, punch-line-winning sidekick? Check. A jeans-to-Cinderella-gown transformation? Check. A happily ever after? Well, you’ll have to watch the movie.
Yes, Crazy Rich Asians is a mindlessly fun movie like other mainstream rom-coms—but here’s something it checks off that others don’t: It boasts a majority-Asian cast hailing from America to the U.K. to Malaysia, and the few white actors play waiters and showgirls. Crazy Rich Asians is the first wave of a movement to bring more Asians onto the big screen.
The last Hollywood studio movie to feature majority-Asian contemporary characters was The Joy Luck Club from 25 years ago, another novel-based movie that earned about $33 million. Crazy Rich Asians has so far fared much better: It grossed $26.5 million in its opening weekend, and then made $25 million its second weekend—an unusually strong second weekend, especially for a romantic comedy.
For a movie that claims to represent Asian-Americans, the storyline is universal, maybe even clichéd: Stinking rich boy Nick Young (Henry Golding) meets girl-next-door Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) in Manhattan. Nick brings Rachel to Singapore to meet his family, which Rachel didn’t realize was like the royal family of Southeast Asia. Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) disapproves of Rachel, and has no problem letting Rachel know. Conflict ensues.
What’s different about this movie is how it highlights the familiar conflict of Asian-Americans who will never be Asian or American enough. For example, when Rachel proudly tells Eleanor how hard her immigrant mother worked so her daughter could pursue her passion, Eleanor grimaces. To the matriarch, that story shows how Americanized Rachel is to prioritize her own ambition over her family.
At its core, Crazy Rich Asians is exactly what its title suggests: a movie about crazy rich Asians doing crazy rich things, like literally throw money into the air. Most Asian-Americans like me can’t relate to that, but hey, even wealthy people wrap pork dumplings as we do.