From Page To Screen: Crazy Rich Asians

I’m not one of those snobs who always insists that the book was better than the movie adaptation. In my experience as a pop culture connoisseur, particularly in our modern era, book and movie are often on a similar level to one another. Gone Girl, for example, was excellent in both forms, though that likely had a lot to do with Gillian Flynn’s heavy involvement with both (speaking of, I’m hella excited to see what she does with Lynda LaPlante’s Widows soon.) Of course, there are certain adaptations where the snobs are right, and the movie fails, if not outright betrays, the book (Annihilation, I’m looking at you) but it’s the perishing rare movie that a committed bibliophile like myself will claim outstrips its source material. The Crazy Rich Asians movie? Is absolutely one of those latter.

Don’t get me wrong: I loved reading the CRA novel. But I hated so much the heroine, Rachel, and went on at great length as to why in my original review. Coupled with on-set gossip I got from friends of friends, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t like the film at all. But then I watched it, and they made Rachel someone I could actually root for! I mean, she wasn’t perfect: she was still a typically clueless middle-class (Asian-)American coming into contact with Southeast Asian old money for the first time. I literally cringed every time she said or did something tacky, which was unfortunately but realistically often. But movie Rachel, while occasionally gauche, was not the utter asshole book Rachel was. Y’all, they took out literally every single one of the traits that made me haaaaate her. I credit this to the screenwriters, and especially to Adele Lim who is a Malaysian-American woman like myself. This Bustle interview actually talks about the creation of one of my favorite scenes from the movie (don’t click on the link if you don’t want spoilers tho.) Ms Lim correctly centered the story on family and self-worth, and made it possible for Rachel to be a character I would root for instead of against.

My sister, being the asshole that she is, spent a good portion of the movie complaining loudly that Constance Wu is too old for the part. I’m not sure whether Rachel is supposed to look Ms Wu’s age (interestingly, Ms Wu is one of those Asian women who does not look younger than she actually is, at the age of 36 — this is not a value judgment, btw, so don’t @ me) but that would have added an even greater layer of complexity to the Young family’s animosity towards her as a bride for their heir apparent. We both very much enjoyed Henry Golding as the hero, even tho I was constantly thrown by the fact that he looks like a broader, British version of our younger brother, a similarity my sister doesn’t see at all. One thing that struck me about the book vs the movie is that it’s much easier to believe that Rachel never suspected Nick was rich when you don’t know what his accent actually sounds like. But in the film, by God, Nick’s accent is posh even for an Englishman. There is no way in hell that someone who talks like he does comes from a poor family, as Rachel’s movie mom posited to my very loud disbelief.

Speaking of accents, I almost died the first time I watched it and listened to Ken Jeong’s attempt at a local accent. Coming on the heels of the wonderful Koh Chieng Mun’s warmth and authenticity (honestly, watching her on the big screen being so fully familiar to me made all the tension I didn’t even know I was carrying in my body melt away. It felt like the filmmakers truly did respect and value, if not outright love, where I’m from,) it was a bit of an “oh shit, please don’t minstrel this up” moment. Fortunately, the movie handled it perfectly. Pretty much every scene in the Goh household was freaking phenomenal (shoutout to David Wong: PJ represent!) I also really, really like how they broadened Peik Lin’s role, especially in the scene where she drove Rachel to Ah Ma’s party. It was inconceivable to me that she wasn’t invited in in the book, and I’m glad the movie fixed that. Also, Awkwafina was a delight and lit up every scene she was in. The chemistry between her and Mr Jeong was fantastic, and I hope we see a lot more of the entire Goh family in the sequel (tho gah, I hope she doesn’t wind up stuck with the ending she gets in the books, not unless a certain personality changes dramatically for the better.)

And oh God, that wedding. I’m definitely more old school with my tastes, and while I love a good party and good food, I just cannot sign off on that kind of pointless excess. Who wants to get married in a swamp, ffs? I was very much Team Eleanor/Felicity in their criticism of it. And don’t even get me started on the synchronized swimmers at the end. I have nothing against conspicuous consumption (Peik Lin, for example, is the perfect mix of money and exuberance, tho her parents are not) but must draw the line at vulgar excess. I even hated Eleanor’s ring, honestly: it was too big and too much (tho I can see why the filmmakers had to make it look so distinctive.) Astrid’s earrings were gorgeous, tho. Mad props also to the costumers: the nuance of tailoring vs off-the-rack was exquisite and deserves awards.

Anyway, I saw the movie twice and quite possibly enjoyed it even more the second time than the first. I was a little unclear as to why the Bonaparte quotation was included in the beginning, tho. Yes, China is a force to be reckoned with, but that didn’t really have much bearing on the film, besides the main characters being a part of the diaspora, several some times removed. Perhaps that will be more relevant in the sequel, given that Charlie is Taiwanese? I so want to see Astrid and Charlie together, y’all. Gemma Chan is absolutely exquisite but I need moar Harry Shum Jr on my screen!

One last note about the casting: HOW FUCKING WEIRD that the main objections were to relative unknowns with British-Asian roots and not to Korean-Americans playing ethnic Chinese locals. Americans make me so angry with their bullshit sometimes, especially when it plays in to the overseas racist right and especially when this kind of thing is brought up only when it’s convenient for outrage. CRA the movie got all the casting exactly right, and actually betters the book in its representation of diversity in Southeast Asia. It still under-represents non-ethnic-Chinese but given what it’s working with, it’s a huge step forward for Asian representation in Western film, and for Asian people in the West.

Tl; dr: go watch Crazy Rich Asians. Better yet, make it a double feature with Searching, which is an intelligent, cleverly shot thriller that surprised me with how emotionally invested I became in it towards the end.

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  1. I love this review so very much.

    1. Aw, thanks! This was especially good to hear after I had to read the umpteenth article claiming that the romantic lead wasn’t actually Asian because his dad is white. When will these lunatics learn that they sound just as bad as anyone who says President Obama wasn’t really black (or American, or Christian or whatever ridiculousness they would dredge up from the depths of their denial)? Do they think the name “Young” is spelled that way because that family is proud to be 100% purebred ethnic Chinese? Of course, this was also an article that didn’t understand why the upper crust had British accents or all went to Oxbridge, so how could I possibly expect the writer to have any clue about race and class in Southeast Asia when he’s really writing from a place of deep insecurity about how any whiteness trumps Asian-ness instead of, oh I don’t know, working towards being inclusive of mixed race actors instead of a firm believer in racial purity in film-making? Asshole had the nerve to say Emma Stone was better cast as a quarter-Asian than Henry Golding as a Singaporean Chinese, gtfoh.

      Ahem, I may still be a tad steamed :D. Have you seen the movie yet? It’s quite good.

      1. Steamed? Who could tell? 😀

        I hadn’t thought much about seeing it, because who wants to see this dubbed into German? But it’s playing in English. Oxbridge accents and all!

        (And even I can see why crazy-rich people mostly from former British colonies would aspire to going to those universities. Kid Two has a school friend who is rich (though her family is not, afaict, crazy-rich) and half Chinese, but her mom is from the PRC and has her accent in English by way of California. And another friend from the class has parents who grew up in a different former British colony but their accents are South Asian. Of which there are presumably many different flavors, but I don’t know the various accents well enough to distinguish among them. Local public secondary school, for what it’s worth.)

        Anyway, I may sneak out tomorrow afternoon and do that very thing.

  1. […] can fuck up all those people who tried to hold you down. The opening scene of worldwide phenomenon Crazy Rich Asians tells you the exact same thing, but plunges forward into a beautiful present day where that wealth […]

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