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[Arts] Crazy Rich Asians: Breaking Through Stereotypes

Wikipedia defines “romantic comedy” or “romcom” as “a genre with light-hearted, humorous plotlines, centered on romantic ideals such as that true love is able to surmount most obstacles.” Currently screening in cinemas, Crazy Rich Asians (CRA) definitely ticks all the boxes.

Some of the best romcoms from Hollywood include such classics as When Harry Met Sally, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Pretty Woman, Sleepless in Seattle, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Roman Holiday, etc. While not in the same league, CRA definitely has something that all the above don’t have: practically all the lead and supporting cast are Asians in a modern day story. In fact, this film has been described as the first one since the 1993 film The Joy Luck Club to have such a distinction. An interesting bit of trivia is that actress Lisa Lu, who played the mother in The Joy Luck Club, now plays the grandmother in CRA. That’s how long it has been.

Released in August 2018 by Warner Bros. in the USA and then worldwide, CRA tells the story of a New York University professor who ventures with her boyfriend to visit his family in Singapore. Coming from a poor single-mother family, she discovers that he is from one of the richest family dynasties in Asia. Problems arise when his mother feels that she is not the proper match for the heir of the family fortunes.

CRA is worthwhile to support as it presents before international audiences a cast of characters from the upper echelon of today’s Asia – educated, articulate and economically powerful. This is a far cry from the old stereotypes of Asian characters on screen: illiterate railroad workers, laundry operators, restaurant owners and waiters, prostitutes, gangsters, etc.

Asian audiences are flocking to CRA to see themselves as the romantic leads, the main heroes and villains, etc. and not just the usual minor roles played by Asian actors in most Hollywood productions. Of course, I am not talking about those Bruce Lee classics, the Rush Hour Jackie Chan movies and others that feature Chinese superstars in the lead roles. Even those film opportunities are few and far in-between. In addition, CRA offers western audiences a chance to discover such films as being entertaining and an eye-opener into worlds they don’t know much about. We are told that a sequel is in development so there will be more CRAs to come.

As the world becomes more aware and affected by the growing economic and cultural power of China, and Asia in general, it is important for films, TV series and other forms of media to create content that showcases the different facets of who Asians are today. Through greater universal understanding of each other, greater cooperation between nations and cultures is more possible. Films like Crazy Rich Asians are a welcome step in the right direction.

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