I Did Not Like Crazy Rich Asians, and I’m Half-Asian

I Did Not Like Crazy Rich Asians, and I’m Half-Asian

Crazy Rich Asians broke all sorts of records.  It was the first American-made film to feature an all-Asian cast.  In the US alone, it pulled in over $175 million dollars–and only cost $30 million to produce.  It has a 91% positive  score on Rotten Tomatoes and received praise from a diverse range of audience that includes Asian-Americans, Whites, Blacks, Hispanics–and just about everyone.  With such glowing praise and rave reviews, I just had to check out the movie for myself.

………and I did not like Crazy Rich Asians (nor did my Chinese husband).

For me to make such a point-blank statement is confrontational, and maybe some will think I’m going to turn this into a race issue; but actually I disliked the film for many reasons, most of which have nothing to do with race.

There is no chemistry between the male and female lead

This is my biggest gripe with the film.

So the movie is about an Asian guy who is son and heir to the wealthiest family in Singapore.  He brings his Chinese-American girlfriend to Singapore to tell his entire family he wants to marry her, but is met with resistance.

This guy is willing to give up his fortune and break up his family for a chick–but even by the end of the movie, I couldn’t feel the love that fueled this motivation.  There is no chemistry between the characters, much less the actors on the big screen.  This is a rom-com without the rom.

The jokes are terrible

One of the jokes is two girls, one cup of noodles.  I think that’s all I really need to say.

The main guy isn’t full Asian, and he’s not even half Chinese

This makes me have flashbacks to the film version of ‘memoirs of a Geisha,’ where Gong Li and Zhang Zi Yi (Chinese actresses) pretended to be Japanese because, you know, all Asians are the same.  For some reason, in this movie, most audiences are happy to pretend the half-Asian lead (a half-Malay, half-British) actor is Chinese–and this is ok?

This didn’t bother my husband, but it really bothered me.  The entire movie’s contention revolves around the MIL not wanting a Chinese-American in the family… when in actuality, her son (the actor) isn’t even Chinese! (he’s not even Chinese-Malay… he’s from a minority tribe).

I’m half-Asian and this just aggravated me.  As someone who is also half-Asian, I do not cheer for Henry Golding.  I don’t want Henry Golding to pretend to be Chinese.  Is a full Asian man still not sexy enough to play the lead in a movie?

Cultural “mistakes” are blown out of proportion and are simply unrealistic

Rachel, the protagonist, is “poor” compared to her boyfriend’s mega wealthy family in Singapore.  This movie highlights not only her struggle in a “classist” sense, but also in terms of ethnicity and identity.  As the MIL and even Rachel’s mother point out on many occasions, she’s Chinese on the outside and American on the inside–or, as her friend calls her, a banana.

I get it.  Asian Americans are different from those on the mainland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Asia in general. But this movie just goes too far.

Take the scene where Rachel first meets potential MIL.  It’s her first time meeting MIL at a super swank party in Singapore’s richest neighborhood.  As soon as Rachel meets MIL, she rushes her with a hug and giggles about how excited she is to meet her.

First, anyone with common sense (even, gasp, a white girl), would not jump up to hug their uber wealthy mother in law-to-be with a gleeful shout.  That’s like running up to the queen of England and rushing her with a hug.  Or the empress of Japan.  You just don’t do it.

Then, immediately after saying “excited to meet you,” Rachel explains her entire life story.  Her father left them when they were young.  Her mother moved to the US without a penny to her name.  Her mother worked hard to give her the American dream.  Despite their poor upbringing, Rachel said, she picked herself up by the bootstraps and succeeded–all thanks to her single mom.

If I said this to my husband’s mother after introducing myself, I probably wouldn’t be married to my current husband.  In Asia, family background matters a lot.  And come on, anyone with common sense isn’t going to explain the financial crises of your family to their potential mother in law minutes upon first meeting them.

I understand why they crafted this scene.  The film wanted to highlight the contrast of “American Rachel” and “Chinese MIL,” but it was overkill.  Rachel wasn’t lacking in cultural graces–she was lacking in common sense.

This is a movie made for Asian Americans

This movie was released in China and it bombed.  It bombed hard.  No one gave a shit.  Aquaman killed it in revenue.

This movie was not made for Asians–it was made for Rachel.  It was made for Asian Americans.  And that’s totally ok.

My Asian American friends shed tears watching this movie–not because it was moving, but because they finally felt represented.  Seeing a Hollywood film with an all Asian cast is something to applaud for, and I think for them, they finally felt they had achieved something they waited their whole lives to see.

I did not have the same reaction.  For personal reasons, I don’t identify with the identity of being Asian American, and maybe that’s the core reason. Perhaps it’s because I sympathize more with the MIL and Chinese side of the family, and I think Rachel is ridiculous. Or maybe I just didn’t like the movie.

Still, there are many areas about this film I just have to praise:

  • An all Asian cast in a Hollywood movie is a monumental achievement we should celebrate
  • The music is good–great to hear Chinese songs in a movie theater
  • Singapore is beautiful in the movie
  • Cinematography is quite good

To be fair, I’ve heard the books are much better and the writer’s motive is more satirical than anything–but the movie came out flat for me.

Have you seen the movie?  What do you think?

18 thoughts on “I Did Not Like Crazy Rich Asians, and I’m Half-Asian

  1. Oooo, girl, you done went thrown down a gauntlet!

    Actually, I have not seen the movie yet. Funnily, I could not find it playing in theatres here in Thailand. Anddd, I sort of expected that. I had a strong feeling though that I would not like the film because of the hype and based on what I did see, I wasn’t intrigued or impressed. And then I moved on…

    I get it though. Representation is huge and all the rage right now. I was like why isn’t there an ASIAN doctor on Chicago’s based ER show? Really? No Indian doctor? Chinese? Are you kidding me??? (They finally got Ming-Na like decades later on there.)

    So, I get it. We’ve been the last ethnicity it seems to really be represented widely, fairly, and on mainstream media.

    So it was funny when AAs started, well, showing up. I remember seeing the Korean couple on Lost and being like ‘Oooooo’. I want to watch a smart show about AAs, and I’m totally willing to overlook past Hollywood snafus and stereotypes, but to an extent.

    I was actually cheering for John Cho’s TV series Selfie because it was mainstream TV and Karen and John had great chemistry. It was FUN.

    Okay, I’m all over the place. Let’s address the problems you had: YES. Memoirs should have had Japanese actresses. I remember that being a big deal. It was a good point. And I had no idea that the male lead of CRA was halfsies – and I just assumed he was Chinese. Good one, Mary.

    YES, bad jokes. I saw some in the previews, and was not impressed. It felt like the movie was going to stereotypes even though it was trying to debunk them. Lowest common denominator. Also, movie for AAs. Yes, good step forward, but I hope to see smarter and more complicated AA characters in the future.

    Brave post, Mary!

    1. Hahaha omg I know, I was really hesitant to post this as I like to avoid confrontation, but I just had to get my thoughts on “paper.”

      I’m surprised it didn’t play in Thailand!!! I think the average American has the misconception that this movie would do well and rake in the dough in Asia because of the all Asian cast, but what most Americans don’t realize is that Asian and *asian american* cultures are completely different. Plus, in Asia, they already have movies with all Asian casts 😉

      Yes, racial representation IS the rage, but I do feel like the Asian male is still very poorly represented. It’s getting better with Selfie (I haven’t seen that show but heard good things!), Walking Dead, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and more… but compared to other race/sex representation, it’s strikingly low. Still, it’s on the upswing compared to the past, so I’m hopeful!

      I think because we lived in (and understand) Asia, we know that we just can’t call everyone who looks Asian, “Asian.” I think this movie reinforces the negative stereotype that Asians are Asians and that’s that. If I mistook a Japanese person for a Chinese person in each respective country, I would get bitch slapped to America and back. I understand this movie was going for overall East-Asian representation, but that’s why I emphasize this is an Asian American movie. A good chunk of actors in this movie are from Korea, HK, Malay etc.. yet they’re all pretending to be Chinese. I think this is acceptable for Americans because it’s about advancing the “Asian” representation in Hollywood, not the Chinese/Korean/Japanese/whatever. But I’m sure a lot of people in Asia weren’t happy about it.

      When I tell people I didn’t *love* this movie they immediately tell me that I have a race issue, which angers me. Even if this was “crazy rich russians” I wouldn’t have liked it–from a film critic perspective, it was just an average movie.

      The male lead being half bothered me, but I think I’m the minority there (husband didnt mind). That’s just me being a stickler.

      Thanks for the response!!! (and support!)

      1. I hate the fact that if you don’t like CRA that makes you somehow ‘anti-Asian’. WTF? The BF loved Moonlight, but didn’t care for Black Panther, but folks jump on the negative. Plus, there is taste, right? He prefers artistic and smart films over pop culture superhero stuff.

        And YESSSSS. If you want to see an all-Asian cast, there is a RICH and varied store of Asian films and TV shows from the Motherland.

        If I read anything negative about the film it was certain Asians having an issue with the ‘rich’ part. Like not all of us are loaded, but that’s not what I think the takeaway was supposed to be about. BUT, I do think folks can get the wrong idea about all Asians being affluent.

        Personally, I’d rather talk about the very conscious effort to keep Asians out of Ivy League schools because they test so damn well. Uh, hello, discrimination.

        In any case, I thought your post was well-written.

  2. Mary…I usually agree with you, but not here. I can totally get behind not liking this movie. I typically don’t watch mainstream films and am more of an art house movie goer. Of course, I had to see this. It was fluffy and fun. I’ll admit to liking it.

    More importantly though, it is a game changer. There has not been a film like this since “The Joy Luck Club” but that film is so different and it’s hard to compare. We need films like that too but what I liked about “Crazy Rich Asians” is that there is FINALLY an Asian (biracial) man that is a sex symbol! There is finally a film where Asians aren’t being shown as their typical stereotypes. There is a film that is all Asian that appeals to a mass audience.

    The makers of this film took a risk. You want to pretend we live in this ideal world, but we don’t. Racism is rampant. People are closed minded. It is hard to appeal to a mostly white audience when the film is entirely made up of minorities. But this film did that! And that will open up doors. It will allow filmmakers to be more selective in their casting. It will allow them to make more films with Asian leads. For example, “A Simple Favor” features Golding as the husband (to Blake Lively’s character) and there is no mention of race. He just is her sexy husband! I liked that. And I don’t think it would have happened had he not already been cast in “Crazy Rich Asians.”

    Lastly, I’m sad you are on the “he’s not Chinese enough” bandwagon for Golding. This is a fear I have for my son who will always be too Asian or not Chinese enough or too White to fit in anywhere. Thanks for upholding my greatest fear. Sad that it is coming get from someone biracial. I would have hoped you’d be more sensitive to this kind of thing.

    1. Hi Rosie! Thanks for the comment and honesty, it really got me thinking and I appreciate your thoughts.

      I do fully agree with you: this movie is a game changer. It wasn’t only an all-Asian hollywood movie, but it’s also an all-Asian hollywood movie that made $$. I am in total agreement with you: it will open up doors (the second movie is already being produced), and I can’t wait to see where those doors lead.

      I do have to say, in both Asia and abroad, half-Asians are very well represented in the media. A very large percentage of talent in China, Japan, Korea and elsewhere are mixed… To an almost grotesque degree, mixed babies are also highly sought after commodities in Asia (if I had a dollar for every time my Asian friend told me they wanted a white husband for a mixed race baby…). In the US, I think mixed-race actors/actresses fly under the radar because of their ambiguity (ex. Keanau Reeves is mixed). Mixed race people are already considered attractive in the US and abroad in the media… I don’t think mixed kids need more representation.

      I just have to say… I’m on the “he’s not chinese enough” bandwagon for Golding because… he’s not Chinese. Is he Asian enough? Sure. But is he Chinese enough? No. He’s just not. He’s a half-ethnic-minority-Malay playing a Chinese guy, so yes, I will stick to my guns and say he’s not Chinese enough (and it’s obvious Henry Golding couldn’t speak the language either and was pretending). So yes, your son is Chinese enough and more Chinese than Golding because he’s actually Chinese.

      I hate to be a realist, but every half-kid (including myself) grows up with the identity issue of “where do I belong?”… and I think that’s just how it’s going to be. All kids have identity issues and I think half kids have an even more difficult time grappling with this question. Growing up I was constantly questioning myself: do I feel more Asian (Vietnamese) or White? And the reality is, I think a mixed race child will lean more toward one side or the other, but will never be “fully” Asian or White…. and basically it took me my entire childhood and adolescence to just be ok with that. We don’t have to be one or the other and that’s totally ok. That’s the beauty of growing up in a mixed race household… you become a person with two cultures and can merge them together.

      I don’t identify as Asian American because I was and am constantly rejected and isolated by AA groups because I look more “white.” I was not allowed to join an Asian American club in college because they flat out questioned my Asian-ness due to my physical features. A close Chinese american friend recently told me I wouldn’t understand her identity problems, because I’m not Asian enough. And these are the people supporting this movie, so overall, it’s infuriating. Because of this I feel more closeness to real Asians in Asia than Asian Americans (if that makes sense?).

      And how does this relate to golding? I don’t know. I’m probably just bitter about Golding because I think Asian males are severely under represented in the media and it’s sad that we have to “ease” the American public in with a half-guy. Plus, labeling this non-Chinese guy as Chinese just further reinforces the stereotype to the American public that “hey, all Asians are the same.” Chinese and Malay are different. Japanese and Korean are different. We’re all not just “Asian.”

      But I just have to reiterate that this movie did more bad than good. Aside from my personal dislike for the casting of Henry Golding, I think this movie is a positive step forward and has already knocked down so many doors. It was way overdue and is a monumental achievement for asian americans.

      And sorry for the long winded comment and if I got too defensive…!! I don’t like to dig into the half-identity too much because it’s messy territory and I think every kid has a different experience. My half friends who grew up in California LOVE this movie, but they 100% identify as Asian American because they grew up in an AA community. I grew up in Utah (predominantly white environment) and had a very different experience comparatively. It all depends I guess… anyway… thanks again for the comment!

  3. Ha, great post! Golding’s casting bothered me, too. The best thing about the movie was, hands down, Michelle Yeoh.

    I liked the movie more than the book, though. The future MIL in the book is utterly one-dimensional, and only cares about obsessively hoarding/ defending the family money and reputation. The matriarchs in the book are all like that, actually, whereas the missing future FIL and his son are just laid back dudes who want to eat bagels and sit around fishing (which I also found utterly unbelievable, I’ve known too many rich men). They are above all the money grubbing, while the young women pursuing Rachel’s man will stop at nothing to discredit Rachel.

    Also, if you think the dialogue in the movie is bad and reveals a distinct lack of chemistry and charm? Yeah. The book is worse. It was smart of the author to start the story after the main characters had fallen in love, because their backstory is not remotely riveting and the author doesn’t show a single moment where they clicked–he just tells you they did. I think the only believable thing they had in common was being foodies.

    The movie gave a lot more depth to the MIL, whereas the book gave a lot more depth to other male characters. Or at least I think so. Would love to hear your take.

    1. Oh man Autumn! I was afraid I might offend you with this post, but I’m glad you agreed on some points and were also kind of bothered by Golding’s casting. I mean yes, he is hot, but I think the other Asian guy (the one who cheated on Astrid) was hotter 😉 Anyway my husband wasn’t bothered by Golding’s casting (and if anyone should be bothered it should be him), so I guess I should just get over it.

      OMG Michelle Yeoh is my hero, she was fantastic in this movie and hit it out of the park. No one else in the movie can hold a flame to how she brought that MIL character to life.

      WOW. The book is worse?!!?! Someone told me the book was better, but you’re not selling me on it. I haven’t read the books yet, but I read the back covers of book one and two and it sounds like the plot gets really interesting. I do agree that there is no way two rich Chinese guys (in mainland China) would just sit around all day and fish and be “above the money.” That is SO INACCURATE!!! Maybe I’m reinforcing negative stereotypes, but man, if a Chinese billionaire can still make another dollar I think he would do it (that’s how my FIL is, anyway).

      I think the most complex characters in the movie were MIL and Astrid, hands down. My husband and I both agreed that the Astrid + Husband arc looked far more interesting and complex compared to Rachel’s story. I haven’t read the books yet so I can’t comment, but yeah, the love story was flat. There was so much at stake for Golding’s character to marry Rachel, and it was hard for me to feel the love that fueled this motivation to marry her *no matter what.* SPOILER At the end, when we find out Rachel was a child out of wedlock from an affair, I thought: dear god–that’s pretty bad! I think in America we believe ‘love conquers all and class doesn’t matter,’ but in Asia, having family history like that would be a deal breaker for a normal marriage, much less a marriage with a billionaire family. I don’t even think a smart game of mah-jong could settle that. END OF SPOILER.

      All in all I just thought the movie was ok. Solid C+ rating from me. I liked Black Panther 100x more (better theme, storyline, characters, etc..). That’s just me though.

      Thanks Autumn!

      1. The Astrid/ husband story is much more interesting in the book, as the husband is not such as asshole. (Because, remember, in the book, the women are less complex.) Okay, let’s be honest, no one is terribly complex, but the women are practically caricatures, while the men in the old Singaporean family are saints (WWII heroes, even).

        I had no idea that the unwed mother was such an issue still in China. It’s interesting and sad that the stigma persisted even through communism, which had the ostensible goal of eradicating oppressive/ aristocratic cultural norms. I guess that was only for men. What a shock.

        But back to the movie. It’s still pretty cool that Hollywood made money on a C+ movie with a majority Asian cast. It shouldn’t just be the province of white men to produce average movies!

        Ragnorak is my personal favorite for movies in recent years. I liked Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Spiderverse quite a bit, too, but the humor and some of the little throwaway comments in Ragnorak are sublime.

    2. Gah! Really, Autumn? Can’t believe such a crappy book was such a bestseller that Hollywood had to turn it into a movie. But then again… Twilight.

      I agree the MIL acting was well done. Some of the men were a bit dry. Aside from being rich I don’t see the attraction of Golding’s character.

  4. Hi Mary,

    I’ve gotta agree with you on all counts here and I also didn’t like the movie. I’m not Asian, but I’ve lived in Japan for a short time as well as Singapore for the past year and had AA, Singaporean, Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, and Burmese friends in addition to a pretty international life and upbringing.

    I definitely don’t fault the producers of the movie for portrayals that are a bit off, though, because for better or worse this is a mass market movie targeted at Americans who will have a hard time parsing the cultural diversity of Asia and still think Asian=Chinese.

    I guess it’s a start! For us who are a bit more informed about Asian culture I’ll probably stick with foreign films from the region.

    1. Hi Anna – Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, I try not to fault this movie too much because it’s a movie made for Asian Americans and from that perspective it did a fantastic job. I think because I lived in Asia and identify better with Asians who were born and raised in Asia, it’s hard for me to relate to this movie and say that I felt represented.

      It is a start for more Asians in Hollywood movies, period, and that’s always a positive!

      And I’m with you–I’m sticking with all-Asian cast movies….. that were made in the home country, lol.

      Thanks again!

  5. I can’t comment on this particular movie as I haven’t watched it. The only thing I can say is that yes, absolutely no one in China gave a crap about it, hahaha.

    On a similar note though, in Breaking Bad and Better Call Saul (which, apart from this, are very good) several of the supposed Mexican or South American baddies have such a strong non native accent when speaking in Spanish that I can’t help but laugh, hehe.

  6. I don’t love this movie either. It undermines the importance and power of education. Real professors with PhD that I know of marry below their social classes because they could afford to do so. They will be too proud to put up with a rich MIL and her nonsense. Also, a PhD who specializes in economics, game theory, stock market, poker, mahjong and etc. certainly knows a thing or two about luxury. Even I, who isn’t born into the high society had to study about etiquette and cultural diversity. We learn to speak formal palace language while in middle school. When I was 19, a rich dude with high social standing went after me but I turned him down. I instinctively knew the consequences of marrying into such family since I was still a teen. Instead, I chose education and career over marriage. I wanted financial independence so that I needn’t put myself in a situation where my in laws could insult me.

    I agree with you that Pierre P’ng (Astrid’s husband) is indeed way hotter. He is a true Peranakan (Chinese mixed with Malay). Also, he loves his wife so much that he donated part of his liver when she had a liver failure. Now, that is real love!

    1. Yeah there were so many things wrong with Rachel’s character. You hit a few on the head.

      And yes, Pierre P’ng is gorgeous! Did not know he was true Peranakan. I think he would have made a better main love interest, but that’s just me.

      Thanks for comment!

  7. Yes I watched the movie and throughly enjoyed it. I understand some of your point of views (the lead not being Chinese and Rachel behaving ‘too American’) but maybe I am an outsider (the other kind of Asian), these things didn’t jump at me. Instead, watching Singapore, the country I spent a decade of my life in, portrayed beautifully warmed my heart. I also like love how the highlighted some of the local cultures (both Chinese and Singapore) through food, clothes and other things. And I also find some bits funny — can’t remember the noodles joke. Overall the movie is a feel good movie and I love that it gives plenty of exposure on Asian culture for people who otherwise wouldn’t know much about it.

    1. Your comments and points are totally valid! And this movie truly made Singapore shine, it definitely made me want to go back. And I guess some Asian exposure is better than none, eh?

      Thanks for the comment!

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