I’ve got my coat on for the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians, when it hits our cinemas August 30. Here’s why I’ve also packed an industrial-sized box of tissues for the ride.
It's been 25 years since The Joy Luck Club
This has been mentioned a lot, but think about it: 25 years. We’ve seen four US presidents and a whole Ariana Grande in that time. Since the film’s release in 1993, we’ve been scrounging for scraps in Mulan, the Charlie’s Angels reboot (thank you, Lucy Liu), and Claudia Kishi for faces that resemble ours. So a movie that literally has ‘Asians’ in the title has me squealing.
It's a Hollywood movie
Not relegated to a limited release indie or straight to DVD - we’re talking Hollywood budgets, baby. Crazy Rich Asians squeezes $30 million dollars’ worth fizzle and pop into their vision of an opulent Singapore, complete with decadent food shots, and bold, lavish costumes teeming with $300,000 brooches and perfect powder pink shift dresses. Because us Asians deserve to see ourselves draped in Dior as much as the next Anne Hathaway-as-fashion-assistant.
It's a rom com
Yup, we get our very own romantic comedy. Not a war-torn tear jerker, martial arts caper, or slick gangland heist, but a sugary, frivolous romantic ride complete with the difficult mother-in-law and wardrobe montage. After all, do only blonde, pale-eyed beauties deserve cheesy one-liners and a redemption arch? Seeing an Asian woman on the big screen falling in love (without, you know, the sex worker or housekeeper angle) is a rare delight.
I’m used to seeing myself portrayed on screen as a fiery dragon woman, massage parlour owner, or docile mistress. In other words, a cardboard cutout of a person. But here, we have an Asian lead actress (Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu) who gets her very own 120 minutes of fleshy storyline to play with, alongside powerhouse Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I can finally see myself as a leading lady (and stop mentally superimposing my head onto Kate Hudson’s body during How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days).
Or should we say, the men. When I was younger, the TV Hits posters I stuck on my walls had a distinctly vanilla quality to them, precisely because the only Asians I saw on screen were the calculus-loving nerd, the scrawny wimp, or the obnoxious goof - essentially, the exotic prop placed in scenes for the hunky white jock to laugh at. They were never allowed to be hot, steaming objects of desire and lust. And so I’m sobbing with gratefulness at the prospect of Henry Golding and Pierre Png luxuriously filling the expanse of the cinema screen for me to happily ogle.
There's a whole heap of Asians in it
An all-Asian cast - there’s a whole movie full of of them! Sometimes, I do the thing where I clock the one token Asian in a movie and see how quickly they flick through tired stereotypes in the five minutes they’re on screen. So seeing a gaggle of faces like mine on the big screen without accents or subtitles is like a warm and fuzzy slap to the face.
But not, like, a gang of Asians
Or a boatload. Or an army. Or a nail salon. These are fully formed, real-deal, Asian characters who have fears, hopes, dreams, a favourite band, pets, certain fruits they don’t like, and weekend hobbies. In other words, they’re actual 3D people. When you’re used to hearing a strained ‘Oriental’ accent (or no lines at all) from the monolith of Asians placed in the scene as window-dressing, seeing yourself on screen speaking perfect English with full character footnotes feels like a revelation.
It centres on American-born Chinese (ABC)
While I definitely grew up watching Hong Kong capers and Korean soaps, I never truly saw myself in those films and TV shows - they were as foreign to me as the late night Saturday movie on SBS. So having Crazy Rich Asians’ Rachel at the centre of a film about straddling two cultures is like feeling seen for the first time. That specific culture clash of being accused of being too Western versus too Asian is very real for immigrant kids of the diaspora, and seeing this explored in a Hollywood fluff film is magic.
8-year-old me would have loved it
That's how old I was when The Joy Luck Club came out. If eight-year-old me had seen that our stories deserved to take up space in the glitzy lights of Hollywood, maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to scrub away my skin, discard my dark eyes, and cut out my mother tongue. This is a movie made for us, by us, with our faces, words, labour and sparkle in its bones.
Vivian Huynh is a writer and musician. Follow Vivian on Twitter: @vivianhuynh_
This article was edited by Candice Chung, and is part of a series by SBS Life supporting the work of emerging young Asian-Australian writers. Want to be involved? Get in touch with Candice on Twitter @candicechung_