Regardless of the manner that society likes to interpret mainstream media, I solemnly believe that movies are meant for enjoyment, with a hint of moral interlaced between its various layers. That said, this post is meant no more than a commentary on the recently released "Crazy Rich Asians".
Its announcement had garnered incredible enthusiasm from the Asian American community - namely for not only casting an actor/actress of Asian descent as the lead, but creating a story with a cast predominantly consisting of Asians. Many doted on this point, even promoting the movie without a shred of knowledge regarding the storyline as told by the original written document.
Personally, this supposed lack of uniformity of different ethnic groups in the arts is irrelevant to the amount of enjoyment I receive from a visual piece. If it's a good series, it'll remain a good series regardless of the participation of cast members hailing from different backgrounds.
Chosen as the male lead was Henry Golding - a name I hadn't been familiar with prior to the trailer drop. Affluent and attractive his visuals were indeed, but acting potential and on-screen chemistry were witnessed to be weak. It's no surprise that experience plays a large part in this, which is precisely why it was crucial to cast several seasoned pros along with Henry. Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh definitely added to the persuasion power of Nick Young as a character. It's unthinkable to ponder the result if more rookie actresses were to have been selected as part of the main cast.
Perhaps the hip-hop personality isn't exactly "acting", so to speak. Her true colours shine through the yellow-blonde wig without restraint. Regardless, she was a wonderful addition to the cast.
I retain very few opinions in regards to the other supporting characters, for I am not particularly fond of any of them. The Singaporean aunties, heavily done-up Astrid Leong-Teo (played by Gemma Chan), party-ready Araminta Lee (Mizuno Sonoya), best friend Colin Khoo (Chris Pang), ex-girlfriend Amanda Ling (Jing Lusi) - they weren't of great interest to me in spite of their frequent appearances. The character profiles were messy - void of clear-cut lines.
Harry Shum Jr.'s cameo was an amusing surprise though, might I add.
The first hour was an introduction to Rachel's life as a typical New Yorker and a resilient Asian American. As the child of a hard-working immigrant mother, she worked hard to establish herself in her profession and is unfamiliar with the Asian standards of class and hierachy. When Nick invites her to Singapore, she retains the belief that relationships are built off of trust and care - not complementing social statuses. She is accepting of everyone, while fully aware that she may not fall within the standards of those she becomes acquainted with.
By not giving a proper description of his family beforehand, Nick becomes the one at fault. While Rachel quickly learns the ropes of the game - she is a Game Theory/Economics university professor after all - and is able to decipher the facial expressions of those that she meets, minimal support is provided from Nick's side. He is observed to leave Rachel to fend for herself majority of the time, breaking the stereotype of a typical Prince Charming.
Plastic surgery, gaudy accessories, and designer fashion are physical elements not uncommon in Singapore and East Asian countries. However, these aspects were introduced into the movie without much foreground knowledge given to the viewer.
It is my belief that all mainstream productions are intended for the viewing pleasure of all ethnic groups to viewers of varying ages (in this case, 13 plus). Crazy Rich Asians displayed a heavy influence of East Asian culture - no surprise. My concern lied with the fact that those not hailing from such a background would grow confused or puzzled at the message(s) being delivered. The presence of subtitles were inconsistent throughout the movie, as was the chosen dialect.
Cantonese, Mandarin, and independent Singaporean languages were heard all over; soundtrack picks were subject to the same treatment. Speaking on a general basis, it was an undeniably messy presentation of culture and customs. Translator notes ("T/N") would have been a worthy addition to enhance viewer understanding.
The mahjong scene towards the end of the movie was a critical turning point, yet not all viewers would have grasped the significance of Rachel surrendering her winning tile to Eleanor without adequate background knowledge.
There were also contradictions of the concept of "family" and "face": Astrid's divorce would have riled up media sites and papparazzi, and many prestigious families would have chosen to grudgingly accept an affair than to expose themselves and lose face. Moreover, the sheer thought of choosing a younger man immediately following a divorce would have presented itself even more scandalous a news topic.
Does the couple stay in Singapore or America?
Why did Eleanor make an exception for Rachel so willingly?
How will Nick's grandmother react to a child with no father?
The movie failed to illustrate that, in wealthy household, there will always be more than one hurdle to overcome. Strong persuasion skills are only one of the necessary qualities of a daughter-in-law; a swift, cunning eye is another element. This production did not even glance over these topics.
By no means a low-cost production, the crew should have easily been able to secure the necessary equipment to capture awe-inducing footage of the region.
The speed of the clips could have also been altered for greater emphasis and enhanced "wow factor". Throughout the opening scenes, I concluded two things:
Night market snapshots were too hurried to capture the beauty of the district. Lower angles, higher contrast, and panning shots would have enhanced the visual appeal of it all. Once again, the filming style was viewed as unstable and novice.
Scenes involving fixed angles or positions were fine, albeit not the most crisp. A shallower depth of field could have also been employed for several scenes - such as Rachel and Nick's PDA-filled conversation in a New York eatery or Rachel dashing through crowds of posh party-goers to escape the demeaning stares of Nick's family. These were two notable scenes where the background constituents should have been mellowed out to place emphasis on the main characters.
For example, as Rachel is making her grand escape to Peik Lin's house on foot, it is evident that she is paying no attention to the individual features of those casting their eyes down on her. It is a state of internal tumult, where surrounding voices should be heard, but faces be blurred from general disorder.
My major qualms about the film comprise of a blend of:
- Amateur cinematography
- An unfitting soundtrack
- Insufficient background information for non-Asian and non-Chinese viewers
- A relatively dissatisfying story line relayed at an inconsistent pace
I'd likely review the two-hour production to relive the street sustenance shots, but it's suffice to conclude that the movie did not deserve the stellar ratings it received.
Asian representation in mainstream media is one matter, but quality and story flow is another.