Once in a brown moon...
An enlightening journey of self discovery through public ranting
I finally watched the infamous “Crazy Rich Asians” and I’ve got a slightly controversial take on it. I’ve got to say, I don’t think it lived up to its hype. Don’t get me wrong, it was a nice, light-hearted, feel good type movie. An all Asian cast in an otherwise Hollywood style movie was certainly refreshing to see. There’s no denying it’s a good movie but was it really as great as people are making it out to be? Maybe years of NCEA English has poisoned my brain into overanalysing the heck out of everything but I feel like the film was far from doing justice to the purpose it was supposedly set out to achieve.
The film is being hailed as part of a movement for greater Asian representation in Hollywood. My question is, what does representation really mean? Creating a film with an all Asian cast is perhaps the first step but we also need to see more stories that we, as Asians, can connect with. Sadly, I think the film missed the mark when it came to a relatable storyline. I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to love stories but how many of us are going to find ourselves in Rachel Chu’s world falling for a millionaire? I understand that the story is not supposed to be a fairy-tale but rather how love can transcend all barriers. Sadly, all the richness and glamour portrayed detracted from any deeper messages the film was attempting to convey. It was certainly beyond my realm of reality and it didn’t explore Asian culture as much as I would have liked. I felt like I’d just had an Asian fusion experience where the authenticity had been sacrificed for greater western acceptance. In fact, Ronny Chieng, one of my favourite comedians and also an actor in the film joked on a talk show that the “minorities” the film sheds light on is not Asians but rich people. He’s honestly not wrong. The dumpling making scene and the mah-jong scene at the end were perhaps the only real glimpses of Asian traditions we see in the film. These were beautiful scenes and I would have loved it if the film had been more grounded in its cultural context.
The other tricky thing about this film is the term Asians itself. Asia is such a large continent with cultures that are so diverse, so I completely understand that it is difficult to capture Asians as a whole in one film. What I do expect is that if you are going to set your story line in Singapore, at least capture the diversity in cultures that exists in that country. If you just wanted to focus on rich Chinese folk, that’s fine by me. Just set your story in a rich Chinese city like Hong Kong. Singapore’s population consists not just those of Chinese descent like the film would have you assume, but also those who are ethnically Indian and Malay. It disappointing to see that the only glimpse of Indians was turban wearing, creepy looking security guards who scare Rachel and her friend. We’re all minorities here so its definitely not funny to throw another group under the bus. While fighting to dispel certain Asian stereotypes, it felt like the film successfully perpetuated others. It continues the idea that the term “Asian” is associated with a narrow set of physical characteristics rather than its much broader geographic origins. The film also reaffirms some dangerous rhetoric already circulating in our society. It’s hard to ignore the unfounded sense of resentment towards the Asian community in New Zealand society due to some wealthy investors. In light of such racist sentiment, I can’t help but feel that Crazy Rich Asians may be unconsciously adding more fuel to the fire.
Once again, I’m not saying Crazy Rich Asians was a terrible movie. It was certainly good, but let’s all stop praising it like it is some thought-provoking, 12 Years a Slave type film. I’d recommend watching it purely for entertainment but before jumping onto the praise bandwagon, have a think about how culturally authentic it really is.
Why a brown moon?
Simple, our world is coloured by racial perceptions. My experience of life is inherently coupled to my heritage. So yes, when I stare out into the distant darkness of space, I don't see a white moon. Instead, I see a brown one.