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Glamorously accurate: How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ portrays Asian culture

Muthi Achadiat Kautsar
Muthi Achadiat Kautsar

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Mon, September 10, 2018 | 12:47 pm

Highly anticipated romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians premiered in Jakarta on Friday. The space outside the movie theater in Plaza Indonesia shopping mall, where the premiere took place, was transformed into red carpet area with the film’s poster as the backdrop. There was also a photo booth featuring a sofa and coffee table decorated with bling.

As soon as guests walked out of the elevators leading to the theater’s entrance, the red carpet and photo booth awaited them.

Most guests, many among them Jakarta's socialites, dressed up for the occasion, taking turns to have their red-carpet photo taken.

Turns out guests were not merely dressing up for the red carpet. They dressed up for a movie that entertains, is a sight for sore eyes and one to be enjoyed with friends.

Those who enjoy flipping through glossy magazines may already know this movie –which involved an Indonesian set designer- is visually pleasing. 

While the movie revolves around a classic love story, it is neither your typical love story nor a typical Cinderella story. The atypical “Cinderella” here is economics and game theory professor Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, known for her role in ABC comedy series Fresh off the Boat.

As atypical as she could be, Rachel is portrayed in an early scene of the movie as a lecturer who teaches through a game of poker. It is a hint that the filmmaker is committed to creating entertaining scenes from beginning to end, while alterations to the book version comes as a nice surprise.

Those are the alterations that strategically make the movie a more concise adaptation of the book, yet successfully delivering its message.

The prince charming, Nick Young, played by Henry Golding, makes his entrance at the end of Rachel’s class. He is a young and charming history professor who at the beginning leaves out the fact that he comes from a “crazy rich” Singaporean family.

Rachel finds herself in for a surprise as Nick whisks her off to Singapore for spring break and his best friend’s wedding, on a fancy first class airline suite.

That airline suite is just a beginning, as the city-state of Singapore becomes the place where Rachel meets “evil stepsisters” personified by Nick’s female acquaintances. But she finds her “fairy godmother” in her hilarious college best friend Goh Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina.

Read also: Crazy rich on film, proud to be Asian

Amid a whirlwind of family affairs and superficial celebrations around a wedding dubbed the “wedding of the century”, Rachel and Nick’s relationship is being tried. As the plot manages to portray certain issues related to Asian cultures packed with witty dialogue, the filmmaker and scriptwriter simply deserve kudos.

“The movie portrays Chinese culture accurately, for instance when Nick’s Ah Ma (grandmother, played by Lisa Lu) comments on Rachel’s nose as having a shape that is believed to bring good luck. That’s so Chinese,” said Stella Mailoa, a Chinese-Indonesian start-up cofounder.

She went on to say that those of Chinese descent may find that some dialogue in the movie is spot on.

“Like, we grow up hearing and experiencing them. Family comes first no matter what, although they may be wrong.”

Regarding the marriage issue brought up in the movie, Stella also said that some “very Chinese” families are required to marry “their own people” [but of different clan], or Ka-ki-lang in Hokkian dialect.

“I bet the majority of rich Chinese people are [still] like that,” said Stella.

Predictable but presented excitingly, Rachel, not meeting the criteria of the Young family to become their heir’s wife, challenges that notion and aims to prove that she deserves to be accepted by Nick’s family.

She sends the message of her worth through a game of mahjong with Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young, portrayed impeccably by Michelle Yeoh.

The movie ends happily with a fat chance of sequels. And it was such a Friday night treat for those invited to the premiere. Everyone stayed glued to the screen until it ended, and hung around a while following the screening.

Light conversation heard in the elevator descending from the movie theater included commentary such as, “We Indonesians could actually make our own version of this movie. Something like ‘Crazy Rich Indonesians or Crazy –Maybe Rich- Indonesians’.”

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