Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Augustana Observer

Crazy Matriarchal Asians


It was “tornado warning” night when I went to see “Crazy Rich Asians” last month, but no way was I going to let torrential rain and a green-looking sky get in the way of seeing the first all-Asian cast since Joy Luck Club in 1993. In an interview, featured actress and rapper Akwafina mentioned, “That’s a 25 year-old walking around with no representation.” With the box office hit, Black Panther, as precedent, I was excited to see yet another new movie that celebrated minority voices in a dignified way.
The movie follows Rachel Chu, an American-born Chinese woman who meets the man of her dreams while working as an economics professor at New York University. Little does she know, Nick Young is actually harboring a huge secret: he is near-Singaporean royalty with vast amounts of old-money wealth and tons of connections. When he takes her to meet his family in Singapore, worlds collide and back-handed compliments are tossed from his mother to Rachel, who is nowhere near the Young family’s level in terms of status.
Though the movie had its campy moments and some of the lines were way cheesy, I’m glad there is  a movie in my generation where you can put it on the television and there are grumbles resounding from the rest of the family because “Why a romcom again?” Because it’s a romcom that makes me feel like it’s not so impossible that I might be able to fall in love in a sickly sweet, Asian-bachelor-type way – because it’s a romcom with actors on screen who look like me, whose lives are not only represented positively but celebrated. The music was also a nice component; the soundtrack featured Chinese and Chinese-American artists who performed historically popular songs (Grace Chang’s “Wo Nao Yi De Ai” of 1950) as well as covers of newer American songs in Chinese (Coldplay’s “Yellow”).
After reading the book and watching the movie, what impressed me most was not the love story between the two main protagonists (which was sweet but a little underdeveloped in the movie to give way to other, more ostentatious details of the family’s wealth and old-money Singaporean connections) but between Nick’s mother, played by Michelle Yeoh, and Rachel, played by Constance Wu. By that I mean that the writers behind the script were spot-on when they examined the cultural aspects of mother-son relationships in Eastern Asian families.
After all the sassy cold shoulder clap-backs that Nick’s mother pitched at Rachel during the fight over Nick’s future (inciting some “damn oooh’s” from the audience every time), Rachel’s standoff comes in the form of a symbolic mahjong game on the outskirts of town, an ending different from the widely-popular first book in the series. As an economics professor specializing in game theory, she is thoroughly in her element when she approaches Nick’s mom with a power move disguised as an act of mercy: she let Nick go so that when he ended up with the right girl of equal status, his mom would know it was because of her, a “poor, raised by a single mother, low-class immigrant nobody.”
As those who have watched the movie know, Rachel ultimately wins and Nick proposes – with the infamous emerald ring Nick’s mom had to buy herself when engaged to Nick’s father because Nick’s grandfather didn’t approve of their union, either.
And so we have (subtler than the actual love story) an examination of the vicious cycle of generations-old shame and fascination with status that East Asian cultures historically perpetuate because they want the best for their children. The filmmaker’s choice to include the mahjong scene was brilliant, and I think the most successful part of this movie is its soft cultural details.
On the other hand, I thoroughly appreciated the foil to Nick and his mother’s relationship: Rachel and her mom. As an American-born Chinese woman, Rachel has always existed in two worlds, and their bond was much closer than Nick’s not only because of geographical setting but also because of class and marital status – Rachel’s mom was a single mother who represented multiple Asian mother’s untold stories of struggle and survival for the chance that their children might grow up to have a better life.
All in all, the movie was a feel-good cultural high-five, and I wouldn’t be mad if I had to watch it again.

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Crazy Matriarchal Asians