Indeed, for many Asian Americans, seeing Crazy Rich Asians has been not only a fun time at the theater, but also a deeply emotional experience. Here is a summer movie that, in defiance of Hollywood history, casts Asian actors in an array of roles: as snobby socialites, formidable matriarchs, rude frat boys, self-possessed women of ambition, single mothers, and rich eye candy. Chu even turned down a massive deal with Netflix because he felt it was important for his movie to be seen in theaters. “It reflects self-worth and it reflects Asians coming to see this movie,” he told Vulture. “That we are worth your time, your $15 to drive and park and struggle with buying tickets and crowds; to sit down in a dark room and say, ‘Tell me a story.’ We are worth that.”
The film has also faced its share of criticism, which began months before its release and centered on casting decisions, its glamorization of wealth, and its overlooking of working-class and non-Chinese Singaporeans. So to what extent is the movie a “win” for Asian and Asian American visibility in Hollywood? And, as importantly, how good of a film is it? The Atlantic’s Lenika Cruz, Emily Jan, Rosa Inocencio Smith, and Ashley Fetters discuss whether Crazy Rich Asians lived up to their expectations, and which key moments stayed with them after they left the theater.
Lenika Cruz: I’ll be honest; I went into Crazy Rich Asians not expecting much, or at least trying not to. I knew a movie like this was never going to be all things to all people: a solid work of art, cast with the right actors, with the right balance of cultural specificity and broader accessibility, that satisfactorily reflected viewers’ individual understandings of the Asian and Asian American experience. I went in only hoping to have a fine time, and you know what? I did! I laughed, I cried, I decided Michelle Yeoh (who played Eleanor) was my favorite human. I laughed some more.
And then there was, of course, the deeper stuff. I got goosebumps when Jasmine Chen’s “Waiting for Your Return” kicked in at the beginning and she began singing in Mandarin (though I don’t know the language). My heart leapt when I saw all the Asian names in the opening credits. I delighted whenever a familiar face—Constance Wu, Ken Jeong, Jimmy O. Yang, the list goes on—popped onscreen for the first time. Each time Chu decided to linger on a set of abs or squeeze in a random make-out session, I felt a tiny victory had been won for depictions of Asian sexuality in American pop culture. How about you, Emily? What mindset did you have going into the film, and how did you feel walking out of the theater?
Emily Jan: I didn’t make it past the opening credits without bursting into spontaneous tears. Music can be such an emotional part of a movie experience to me, so the second Chen’s cover started playing in Mandarin (transporting me to karaoke-filled, special-occasion dinners visiting my extended family in Taiwan, watching my ah-ma take the mic and command the room) at the top of the film, I was gone.