How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ educated the world
By now, most moviegoers around the world may have gone to see the new romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians. Based on the best-selling novel by author Kevin Kwan, the movie managed to capture the hearts of people everywhere no matter what their race. Hollywood did its best, presenting glitz, glamor, class and — almost unknown to most audiences — a large dose of culture.
Most Indonesian audiences, even those without any Chinese lineage like myself, won’t even ask too many questions regarding the (modern) cultural customs presented in Crazy Rich Asians as they hit too close to home, but we do keep a watchful eye and the movie passed our scrutiny with flying colors. Here are the very Asian behaviors highlighted in the movie that will ease you into modern Asian culture 101.
It’s obvious that having an all-Asian cast has its own strength as tiny details are meticulously shown even without verbal explanation. Rachel Chu may come from the United States, but when she stopped by college friend Peik Lin’s residence for a visit, she was actually shown barefoot inside the house. This minor detail is major for a production of this scale, as it shows a thorough understanding of what being Asian is all about.
Food is love
Being the center of almost everything in an Asian household, the first thing Araminta and Colin did to welcome Nick and Rachel is take them out to eat at a hawker place and devoured plate after plate of Singaporean delicacies. This may be seen as a Singapore tourism plug, however, for the average Asian, it has become a tradition to stop at a street food vendor and eat after being away to make “coming home” official. And by the way, yes, food of that quantity is customary.
Mother’s cooking is best
Another true-to-form nod to a very Asian culture is the relationship between mothers and food. The excessive need of every Asian mother to feed those who visit her house, I can assure you, is not at all exaggerated in Crazy Rich Asians. Both Peik Lin’s mother and Eleanor Young paid good attention to the food quality and quantity when entertaining guests at their houses.
This may hurt if you are foreign to the Asian culture, but expect to be referred as “a friend” when your boyfriend introduces you to his mother. He doesn’t mean to disregard your relationship. It is just a polite way to ease you into the family.Crazy Rich Asians takes very good care of this small detail, so although it’s a normal thing for most Asian audiences, it will be a useful tool to help in explaining to our Western friends should it ever come up in conversations.
(Sometimes unrealistic) family expectations
The norm of how a family’s heir or heiress must eventually return home and continue the family legacy is not new with many Indonesian families and one does not have to be rich to place high expectations on the eldest child’s shoulders. This feels very natural for any child born and raised in an Asian household, although it may create conflict when there’s a Western mindset involved in the equation (in this case, Rachel Chu).
Co-living with parents
A foreign concept of living arrangements in the West, however, an embraced tradition in Asia, this is mentioned and shown several times in the movie albeit breezily. Peik Lin and Nick Young, have been through it at least once in their lives — living with the parents or grandparents. The notion of taking care of your parents when they get old is what started the tradition, and of course, economic reasons for the middle-class Asians.
The art of war
It doesn’t always have to involve mahjong tiles to speak and face intimidation the way Rachel did with Eleanor, but the movie perfectly displays how a “war” is settled with grace and dignity. While talking back to your elders is frowned upon, there is always an elegant way of gaining their respect without being vulgar.
While the movie did not go into detail as the famous cringe-fest dinner scene did in The Joy Luck Club, Crazy Rich Asians depicts culture in a general but fun way, making it an important movie for Asians around the world. Chinese or not, there are certain shared values in the Southeast Asia region and while these cultures are already widely shared via travel shows, to see it in the cinema is an experience on its own. In the age of funny, self-depreciating and intentionally stereotypical memes on what it’s like to be Asian, the movie offers the right dosage of self-accepting humor that actually makes Asians proud.
Several Asian-based reviews of the movie complained about the lack of representation of other Asians — even Southeast Asians — knowing that the movie takes Singapore, the hub of various cultures, as its backdrop. All I can say is it’s a start, and it happens to be quite a huge one. I’m looking forward to more Hollywood movies featuring an ensemble cast with Malays, Indians, Vietnamese, Thais and ultimately, hopefully, Indonesians. —Asmara Wreksono
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