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Thursday, 6 September 2018

Talking Point: When A Movie About Asians In Asia Is Heralded As Asian American Glory, When It Is Not

By Waiching

The hype surrounding Crazy Rich Asians' phenomena so far has been doing the rounds in America recently, and whilst it is important to see Asian Americans fronting movies and TV shows, from this particular standpoint even with the novel turned into a film with an American cast that received major Hollywood backing tailor-made for general audiences, my suspicions and arguments about this movie were laid out: that this is from a native and cultural indigenous experience and it has very little to do with being Asian- American.

This is about a group of Chinese & Singaporean people who have nothing to do with America, little to do with the concept of 'otherness' that goes beyond one's racial makeup/physical appearance, nor does the film attempt to dissect the Asian American experience through the lenses of Western experiences. Only Eastern experiences through the lenses of the East.

If one is Asian and British/American/Australian/Canadian or whatever, it's a tough world out there when one is confronted with or experiences some form of racism during their lives by people of other races.... but then to embark upon certain attitudes by some natives of their own colour and being told that 'we're not Chinese/Japanese/Korean/Indian enough', all because we grew up in the UK, US or wherever and not their owns, is a negative experience a lot of us have gone through at some point in our lives. 

Crazy Rich Asians is also celebrated as being the first Hollywood movie since The Joy Luck Club to feature a predominately Asian American cast, which was debunked by Constance Wu. If you want to go far back, I'd cite Big Trouble In Little China, or even further back in 1982 with Wayne Wang's Chan Is Missing. As well as making new waves as the first Asian American rom-com. 

Ultimately, in the movie, it is about the main female character who is not Asian enough - yet in real-life, Asian Americans, Brits, Aussies are having to deal with and realise that they have two cultures and whether they are more American, British, Australian etc. Which is why a film in Crazy Rich Asians and in the way the writers go about it, it can never live up to the expectations that are asked of it, when it comes to the cultural part.

The title Crazy Rich Asians brings up connotations of maternal wealth and of the broader trope of East Asia as an economic powerhouse. 

The book was never a hit in the East and isn't available in Mandarin, Cantonese and that the writer, Kwan wrote this particular story with White audiences in mind. The film has also drawn criticism for its portrayal of Singaporeans and for excluding 15% of Singaporeans of Malay origin and the 6.6% of Indian origin. In Singapore, Chinese Singaporeans are the majority with Malay and Indian Singaporeans making up for the minority, in addition to the casting of Henry Golding as the male lead as he is half-white. 

Given so many Asian movies of Hong Kong and China, Crazy Rich Asians could have been the opportunity to present a mainstream story not only told from an Asian-American perspective but that it was set and based in a part of America. I'd much rather it was about an ABC, an abbreviation of American Born Chinese/Asian rich people or an Asian American rich guy falling in love with an Asian American girl in San Francisco, New York or somewhere in the South of the U.S. 

This film doesn't look like it will deal with the attitudes, diaspora aspect of Asian/East Asian/Chinese culture (and it (blatantly) dismisses Singaporeans), nor delve into the American/Western-ness of Asian American identity. Instead, it's just some version of Pretty Woman all dressed up, exoticised and fantasized, mixed in with a bit of Sex & The City and with that also comes the stereotypes of being rich, affluent, wealthy that money is what makes people successful and happy - which has been something that has been banded around Chinese culture for a long time. Asians living the high life, the material wealth, wealth porn, the idea that money is the root of all happiness and the film glamourises the heck out of it. Is this really something Asian Americans, Brits should aspire to? 

Its adverse effect is that it may result in more films centering around Asian characters and Asian storytelling, but only through the context of the native Asian moreso than people of Asian descent, born/based and bred outside of Asia. That is my main worry. 

Headliners have also declared Crazy Rich Asians as the first studio-based Asian American film of the last 25 years, when in fact, Justin Lin's Better Luck Tomorrow preceded it back in 2002 & Harold and Kumar came out in 2006. It is also directed by Jon M.Chu, who is hardly what I would call prolific or renowned for his other films, in the diabolical live-action versions of Jem & The Holograms and G.I Joe Retaliation: both of which are toy line and cartoon properties of Hasbro. 

I'm also baffled that this film has been hailed and touted as a game-changer or milestone for Asian American movies and representation and the idea that this will change Hollywood and will lead to a consistent run of good to great films starring Asian American actors; people have been crying out for romantic comedies with ethnic leads and casts - yet it is pity, therefore, that whilst it is judged for its inclusivity, the argument still stands that Crazy Rich Asians structure is just as predictable, reductive, conventional, indistinguishable and samey as any old Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts, Sandra Bullock rom-com vehicle that came before it and ones that have been dismissed and ridiculed by critics. The only reason why it has attracted so much media attention and high scores recently is that it has Asian faces in it, in place of White ones. The media wouldn't have batted an eyelid, well, professional movie critics wouldn't have batted an eyelid, nor praised it so much, if it had a Sandra Bullock or Julia Roberts headlining a film such as this. In that sense, therefore, they're hypocrites. There is no way Crazy Rich Asians would have been well received, had it not been for the racial casting and it looks as though there is nothing here that hasn't been attempted before. 

Applauding and praising a film gratuitously just because the leads are Asian is both ambiguous and flimsy. 

I can't speak from experience, but what I will say is that tokenism and this movie are given a free pass, when other Caucasian-led mainstream commercial romantic comedies which have similar plots and are just as predictable and samey, would have been trashed and dismissed by movie critics, in general, that is what really annoys me: the double standards. It's okay if Asian people do it, but if Whites do it, like with rom-coms, they get bad reviews, comments, feedback, low Rotten Tomatoes, IMDb scores etc. 

And comments from people saying, ''if you don't watch Crazy Rich Asians, you don't support Asians and you are a traitor, disgrace to Asians'' and all that crap. Firstly, don't force your opinions down mines and other people's throats and neither should you tell people what to and what not to do. If I think this is not for me, then that is the way it is - & yet I will not let anyone influence my decision. 

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post on ''more African American and Asian American rom-coms are needed'', but I don't just want the generic template that is the standard as seen in many commercial rom-coms and populist ones: I want rom-coms to offer more than just the usual tropes, conventions and have more substance and to develop the characters and their feelings. By taking away the Asian context, themes, Crazy Rich Asians would be still pretty 'meh'. 

I've mentioned this on Twitter to another user, and that is whilst it is important that more and more Asian- American films and films with Asian American actors are financed and produced in America so that it leads to more positive exposure and visibility and I am all for it, I will, however, not justify myself into, nor buy into and support films just for the sake of inclusivity or to fill a certain quota for Asians. If it has a story that I don't find appealing or is not my bag, I will admit it and feel free to disagree. 

& besides, I don't watch movies because of his/hers race: I watch to see if I like it, for its entertainment factor, whether it is humourous, fun, interesting and the story is very good, has something meaningful to say and that characters have range and show an array of emotions. If I am a fan of the actor/actress and the film is great, then that is also a bonus too. 

So will I subject myself to Crazy Rich Asians at some point? For starters, based on the trailer, it looks like the same type of formulaic dirge that I have witnessed in these rom-com films from Hollywood, so probably. The pressures, the hype, the constant over-hyping of this movie, due to its mass appeal, has taken away part or most of my enthusiasm towards it. 

I've realised now that representing a group of people onscreen does not mean the movie will turn out well or everyone will enjoy it, as much as it looks nice and is well shot. That, & not all Asians are extremely wealthy and live in huge mansions. & even though it shouldn't be the case, this film will be the be-all/end-all Asian American movie for a film that whilst its characters are Asian, I'd reiterate again, Crazy Rich Asians isn't set in America. 

Unless and until Asian Americans, Brits etc would do more to encourage and support the arts and Asian Americans, Brits getting into the arts, entertainment and media industries, much like with The Joy Luck Club, as well as make movies that simply deal with and highlight the American-ness of being Asian-American, the Britishness of being British Born Chinese, Japanese, Indian or being an Aussie of Asian descent, this will be a one-off event; rather than a film that might pave the way for more similar experiences. 

That, and the media and film in general will continue to lump all Asians, particularly ones who weren't and aren't born in Asia, in the same boat and the Asian stereotypes will long continue from one generation to the next. 

& Asian Americans, Brits etc will accept something or anything that appears to be so evidently substandard and low-level, and especially as there is no viable alternative. 

For now at least. 

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