Crazy Rich Asians: Exposing Cultural Truths

2018’s “Crazy Rich Asians” sparked a perennial debut across the globe as the first major Hollywood movie to feature Asians/Asian-Americans in the last 25 years. Critics were skeptical on the movie’s success, but as soon as the film displayed on the big screen, doubts were eradicated. The movie’s budget was approximately $30 million, which is a pretty modest budget for a movie that was expected to have a huge influence. As anticipated, “Crazy Rich Asians” was a success and raked in $35 million during the first 5 days of theater showings. Later, the movie made $267 million worldwide at the box office and became the highest grossing romantic comedy of the past decade.

The movie drew up steamy arguments focused on the topic of the movie’s real meanings and truths behind the movies’ storyline. The parallels of Asian culture delineated throughout the movie correlates with traditional aspects of Asian culture, as I, a first generation Asian-American have experienced and have grown accustomed to. Of course, “Crazy Rich Asians” has its fair share of heart-wrenching drama or else the cinema would not have been such a big success. Though, what sets "Crazy Rich Asians" apart from other Hollywood movies is the underlying truths of Asian cultures and beliefs throughout the storyline. The main scenarios which are embedded with Asian manifestations emphasize reasons why a feud between Eleanor and Rachel arose. Keep in mind that many issues addressed throughout the movie can be seen in customs of different cultures as well, not just in Asian cultures. But let’s bring our attention to the parallelism of true Asian customs and the ones portrayed in the story. Eleanor, Nick’s overbearing mother, does not approve of Rachel for many reasons relating to some ugly truths of Asian culture. It is foreshadowed in the earlier scenes of "Crazy Rich Asians" that there may be discord with Nick’s family. As Rachel and her mother, Kerry, are shopping for Rachel’s trip to Singapore to meet Nick’s family, Kerry worries that Nick’s family may not accept her because she is not a traditional Asian woman in their eyes. Kerry explains to Rachel in Chinese dialectic, “Yes, on the outside, you are Asian, you look Asian, but here and here, (gesturing to Rachel’s body then her head) you are American.” It is a bemusing truth in the Asian culture to separate native-born Asians and Asian-American as two completely different demographics. Kerry affirms that although Rachel does appear to be Asian, she does not embody a true Asian woman because her mentality is not like those of a traditional Asian woman, and this may cause conflict. The topic of the mentality of a traditional Asian woman leads us right into the first encounter Eleanor and Rachel have with one and another. Right away, Eleanor is not amused when she meets Rachel due to Rachel’s upbringing and present life. Although in American society Rachel’s story could be quite impressive; she grew up in a single parent household and became a distinguished economics professor at NYU. However, Eleanor views Rachel’s ambitions and success as unnecessary and even selfish. This is where the traditional Asian mentality versus the mindset of an Asian-American clash. In the eyes of Eastern customs, one is expected to sacrifice all opportunities of self promoting in the means of the greater good of the whole family. Whereas, in America, where individualism is encouraged, focusing on one’s own success and self-bettering is admired and quite traditional as well. Eleanor explains how she was honored to make sacrifices in order to further Nick’s family and how Rachel’s attempts will never measure up. As the cinema progresses, Eleanor continues to find ways to address Rachel’s shortcomings. Eleanor hires an investigator to dig into Rachel’s family background and to Rachel’s disbelief, Eleanor finds that Rachel’s father, whom she believed was dead, is actually alive. Eleanor is furious and exclaims how Rachel’s mother cheated on her father and then fled to America. Even more enraged now, Eleanor accuses Rachel of knowing these facts and says it was Rachel’s attempt to start a big scandal. Rachel is angered and heartbroken by this accusation and by the news of her father. She then tells Nick and his family that she wants nothing to do with their family and runs away. Later, Rachel comes to find out that her mother only told her that her father was dead because he was a dangerous and abusive man.

Kerry explains how if he had known that she was pregnant with Rachel, he would have killed them both, so she had no choice but to flee to America. Again, another ugly truth of the traditional ways of Asian culture. Even if you were in a dangerous and abusive relationship, you could not get a divorce, for it is deeply looked down upon in Asia. Even in today’s present society in the East and in the Asian-American community, many unhappy marriages do not get a divorce. Couples may spend their time apart or even not live together but their marriage is never annulled.

Unfortunately, as usual, women get the shorter end of the stick when it comes to situations such as this one. The woman, like Rachel’s mom must carry around this baggage with her for the rest of her life and struggle with constantly being objectified. On another note, the most unanticipated scene of “Crazy Rich Asians” takes place in a mahjong parlor in which Rachel invites Eleanor to meet after their major falling out at the wedding. Mahjong is a traditional tile game that involves a high set of skills, strategizing, calculation and a degree of chance. As they play mahjong together, Rachel informs Eleanor that Nick has proposed to her and was willing to leave his family’s legacy behind if it meant that she would marry him. Eleanor, in disbelief, is silent. Rachel subtly tells Eleanor that she declined his proposal. Rachel explains that though she loves Nick very much, she does not want Nick to choose her and have no family, but also that if he were to choose his family and it’s legacy, he would resent them for the rest of his life. Eleanor sets down her tiles to show Rachel her hand, Eleanor has won the game of mahjong….to her disbelief. With tears in Rachel’s eyes, she pours out her feelings, and says that when Nick finds some other lucky girl someday, someone who Eleanor approves of, she wants Eleanor to remember it was because of Rachel, “a poor, raised by a single mother, low-class immigrant nobody”, made it all possible.

With this, Rachel shows Eleanor her hand, displaying that Rachel actually had the winning hand this whole time. Eleanor is shocked and once again speechless. Rachel gets up and leaves with her mother who was sitting at another table in the parlor, and Kerry and Eleanor share a look. This is by far one of the most dramatic scenes created throughout the movie. Not only did the screenwriters use one of the most traditional and respected games in Asian culture, they adapted it to examine Rachel’s love and worthiness for Nick. Through this Rachel shows the audience and Eleanor that her love for Nick is infinitive. First, she is willing to put his future above hers by letting him go. Second, Rachel shows that she understands the importance of family by letting Nick find someone Eleanor approves of. Lastly, and maybe most importantly, the fact that Rachel may be a poor Asian-American but she is independent, strong and noble. The movie “Crazy Rich Asians” has triggered an examination and appreciation for the different cultural perspectives of the Asian/Asian-American community and in the American community as well. The cinema gave the audience chills and a new outlook on the sometimes harsh but explainable customs of Asian culture. I personally loved this movie so much that I saw it 3 different times, and I’m proud to say, I teared up every time. Though some of the ugly truths of Asian culture were exposed through this romantic comedy, it also opened the world’s perspective on the importance of culture, experience and values.