Arts & Media

Rachel Chu & Me: A Personal Reflection on Crazy Rich Asians

By Hanna Kim

Everyone has been talking about Crazy Rich Asians. I hear the buzz everywhere from sitting in Seal Court to social media to the bright colored movie posters of Constance Wu and Henry Golding embraced lovingly against a multi-colored background. I’ve frequently been asked my thoughts about the movie.

The chairs reclined all the way back and there were only four other people in the theatre; two other older couples each sharing a bowl of popcorn. My mom and I found some perfect seats, so that we wouldn’t get motion sick from being too close to the screen. I was so excited for the movie to start, but a little bit anxious because I’m notorious for my loud reactions.

Kevin Kwan, American Singaporean novelist, first published Crazy Rich Asians in 2007. The book is inspired by his childhood in Singapore and was soon followed by China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. The story centers on Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American Economics professor at NYU. After her longtime boyfriend, Nick, proposes, she accompanies him back home to Singapore where she learns of his family’s wealth and that he is one of Singapore’s most eligible bachelors.

Long story short, my mom and I couldn’t stop laughing during the entire movie. There was a huge range of nuanced references that on one hand could be read as stereotypes, and were also experiences that hit close to home with my mom and I. When Rachel’s mom unloaded plastic containers full of leftovers on her before her flight, I thought of my mom and grandma doing that for me before camp, soccer practice, or piano practice. When Nick’s family would stare at Rachel’s ring, clothes, and overall demeanor, it reminded me of moments in Korea when people on the street would tug my shirt to see what brand it was or scoff at my Old Navy polos.

It’s not that Crazy Rich Asians‘ storyline is original as it is well done; it rarely goes for the cliché. Romcoms have a tendency to portray their heroines as somewhat lost, until they find their perfect match. Not Rachel Chu; she is sharp, resilient, and clever. My favorite scene is when she plays Mahjong with Nick’s mom, a tense scene where they discuss the status of her and Nick’s marriage. She wins the game, mirroring the movie’s opening scene where poker game with one of her TAs. She explains to  to be successful in any game where psychology and choice are a factor, you can’t play “not to lose” — you have to play to win.

It’s impossible not to notice the movie’s lingering shots of men’s bare chests, but this reverse objectification is subversively intentional: Asian men are rarely portrayed as attractive in media. This form of cinematography challenges our preconceived notions that Asian men are undesirable.

I saw so many of my experiences in the movie, because it was refreshing to see Asian American experiences being represented in such a nuanced yet humorous way. Being Asian American in the United States is confusing because of the friction between these two contrasting sets of cultural expectations. Like Rachel Chu, its disorienting to identify so closely with more than one culture. My dad always says coming here is the “best thing that’s ever happened to him” because he was too anxious in the strict classroom settings in Seoul. My dad is well known in my family for his rants about healthy food, vitamins, and exercise. He sent me Magnesium Citrate in the mail yesterday because I told him I was stressed about a paper. My mother would rather talk to me over the phone and as “what’s wrong?”

Crazy Rich Asians will end up on the Best Romantic Comedies in History list because it’s actually not about getting the guy to be fulfilled. Rachel proves the importance of loving yourself and leaning on your family and friends for support when you need it.

Image Credit: Medium