Top spot in the box office. Rom-com of the decade. One of the biggest breakouts of 2018. Crazy Rich Asians has surpassed all levels of crazy success. Who would have thought a movie with an all-Asian cast would become a lucrative blockbuster film, challenging not only racial diversity, but also making strides to reverse gender stereotypes?
But overcoming obstacles is exactly what this movie is about.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians is not just another cliched love story. It is a bold statement embracing the power of womanhood. The movie centers around strong independent women who defy societal and cultural conformity. As today’s feminist movement continues to gain traction, women’s voices are increasingly heard. The timely release of this movie perfectly depicts the struggles women face and validates their place in society. For Asian women who are often objectified as meek and submissive, their struggles are even greater. As Director Jon M. Chu noted, “It’s not a movie, it’s a movement.” (1)
In a humorous yet compelling love story, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) travels to Singapore where she meets the insanely wealthy family of her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). To Rachel’s dismay, her Americanized upbringing and lack of traditional Asian values result in exclusion from Nick’s family, especially from his mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Rachel’s inability to conform to Eleanor’s strict standards creates palpable tension, ending in a surprising twist.
Arriving in Singapore for the first time, Rachel is initially intimidated and overwhelmed by the foreign culture she is thrust into. The expectations that come with marriage into a traditional family deeply disturb her, leaving her to question an uncertain future with Nick. However, she refuses to adhere to the cultural norm, and in turn, gains a greater sense of self-worth and confidence. Her ability to stand up for herself is demonstrated at the end of the movie in an intense Mahjong game against Eleanor where she uses her wits and clever manipulation to fight back. With a whirlwind of hand movements swirling over clacking game tiles in synch with rapid dialogue, this pivotal scene is artfully choreographed to display a parallel between the game and the characters’ conflict. In her courageous confrontation of Eleanor, Rachel tactfully uses this traditional Chinese pastime to send a telling message. Rachel’s command of the game symbolizes the control and power she ultimately has over her own life.
Rachel’s primary adversary, Eleanor, also embodies the qualities of a formidable female figure. Yeoh’s performance is exceptional, accurately creating a character with composed strength that has the ability to inflict distress with a single icy glare. While self-sacrificing for the benefit of the family, Eleanor is anything but a pushover. Highly respected and often even feared, her dominance and authority make her the quintessential tiger mom. As it is her instinct to shape her son’s future to her own machinations, Eleanor’s relentless disapproval of Rachel is merely an act of tough love for Nick. However, she did undergo an evolution of her own as she eventually breaks from the tiger mom stereotype and becomes more supportive of her son’s true desires. Her ability to recognize and respect Rachel is a testament that acquiescence is not a weakness. In fact, it shows adaptability, an invaluable trait that all strong, open-minded women possess. Eleanor even begins to develop a flicker of admiration for Rachel, a slow but steady transformation that Yeoh executes impeccably. Yeoh is even able to preserve Eleanor’s regal aura and dignity throughout the whole movie, despite the change her character experiences.
The power of the strong independent woman is also portrayed in the character of Nick’s glamorous cousin, Astrid Leong-Teo (Gemma Chan). Throughout most of the movie, Astrid follows the formula of a traditional Chinese wife by reverently placing her husband’s pride on a pedestal, sacrificing her own. Despite being significantly wealthier, Astrid goes out of her way to conceal her astronomical spending in attempt to protect her jealous and insecure husband’s ego. While initially suffering in silent obedience, Astrid later finds the strength to break from the role of the dutiful wife. Chan’s captivating performance portrays Astrid not only with sophistication and poise, but also with quiet strength that grows throughout the movie. In a defining moment, Astrid delivers a heavy blow to her husband with the line, “It’s not my job to make you feel like a man. I can’t make you something you’re not.” With the utterance of those words, a paradigm shift occurs. Astrid reclaims her power as a woman and frees herself from the shackles of her marriage, transforming into a dominant force. Not only does this iconic line further injure her husband’s insecure nature, it also resonates with the audience and indirectly attacks the fragile egos of all men. Astrid’s evolution sends an empowering message to the audience: a woman does not need a man to be successful.
Straying away from the standard patriarchal stereotype of having male characters dominate the storyline, Crazy Rich Asians was intentionally produced to have women take central spotlight. This groundbreaking shift in the power dynamic not only allows women to be perceived in a new light, but more specifically, allows the voice of Asian women to be broadcasted on an international scale. Watching these leading characters evolve into independent individuals sends an empowering message to all women, further contributing to the feminist movement. A light comedy that pulls on one’s emotional heartstrings, Crazy Rich Asians encourages women to be unapologetically true to themselves. As Director Chu so eloquently expressed, “I want [my daughter] to live in a world where she’s seeing Constance Wu [and] Michelle Yeoh….be these
strong independent people that don’t need a man in their life to be fulfilled, and that love themselves and know that they’re worth every inch of their existence, and can be anything and do whatever they want.” (2)
The essence of strong women embodied so effectively in this heartwarming yet hilarious film is far from over. The stories of Rachel, Eleanor, and Astrid will continue in a sequel entitled, China’s Rich Girlfriend. While details are yet to be released, there is no doubt that the movie’s (3) powerful female characters will continue to carry the torch of female empowerment as they strive to break through the glass ceiling.
1 Christina Lee, “‘It’s not a movie, it’s a movement’: Crazy Rich Asians takes on Hollywood,” The Guardian (August 11, 2018).
2 Jen Yamato, “‘Crazy Rich Asians’: Director Jon M. Chu hopes to inspire other storytellers, open Hollywood’s doors,” Los Angeles Times (August 10, 2018).
3 Rebecca Sun and Rebecca Ford, “‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Sequel Moves Forward With Director Jon M. Chu (Exclusive),” The Hollywood Reporter (August 22, 2018).