When the lights came up after I watched Crazy Rich Asians I realized I had tears in my eyes. It wasn’t because it was a tear-jerker of a movie but that I was seeing someone that looked like me as the romantic lead in one of my favourite film genre’s of all-time: the romantic comedy.
I’ve grown up loving rom-coms and used to seeing leading ladies like Meg Ryan and Sandra Bullock in leading roles but I could never see myself as someone who could fall in love with the handsome leading man. When I saw Constance Wu be the lead in a genre that I love, it makes me believe that I too can find love in a glamorous setting.
As an avid TV/film watcher growing up in Vancouver in the 80s, I saw little of myself represented on screen. Whenever an Asian character showed on any screen they were often portrayed as the stereotypes we are known for: either the science/math geek or a gang member. And Hollywood was and still is known to whitewash roles. I know that Breakfast at Tiffany’s is considered a classic and I had never seen it before but one day I decided to see what the fuss was about but as soon as Mickey Rooney came on screen and portrayed a Japanese man is such an offensive manner that I immediately turned the movie off and have never bothered to try and seen it again.
I wanted to know what Asian representation was like in Hollywood and remember wanting to watch Sayonara because one of its stars, Miyoshi Yumeki was the first Asian person to win an Oscar. I don’t remember much about the movie but just that it was a tragic one. I followed Yumeki to Flower Drum Song and recall liking it only because it was a movie musical that told an Asian story albeit a racist one.
Films with an all Asian cast in the Hollywood system are few and far between. That is why I immediately embraced The Joy Luck Club, a movie that came out 25 years ago. I cried too after I saw that movie because yes it was a tear-jerker but I mostly cried because I saw my own mother-daughter relationship reflected on screen. The next movie that featured an all-Asian cast was the animated Mulan and I loved the fact that I have an Asian Disney Princess to look up to. I embraced any Asian character I saw on screen from Cho Chang in the Harry Potter movies to Rose Tico in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. And this goes without saying but Michelle Yeoh is my all-time favourite Bond girl.
Speaking of Michelle Yeoh, the same would go for TV. I only watched Star Trek Discovery because I heard that Yeoh would be the captain but was disappointed that she didn’t appear for the whole season. My desire to see Asians on TV lead me to watch Star Trek Voyager because of Ensign Kim. I watched ER because Ming-Na Wen was on the show and watch Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. because she is on it as well as Chloe Bennet. Jin and Sun were my favourite couple on Lost, watched Designated Survivor because of Maggie Q , Grey’s Anatomy because of Sandra Oh, Elementary because of Lucy Liu and liked Tina on Glee. I cheer for any Asian contestant on The Amazing Race. While I disliked Kristin Kreuk on Smallville, I do like the fact that in subsequent roles she had, she embraced her mixed heritage. On Chuck, her character had an Asian mother and Caucasian father, like in real-life. The same in Beauty and the Beast and with Burden of Proof, I loved how she broke ties with her father and took on her mother’s Chinese last name to start a new life without her father’s bad name hanging over her.
I am sure I am missing more examples but we are seeing more and more Asians on TV and I think there is going to be an Asian series regular on DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, which I am excited for. I am thrilled that Oh is the first Asian woman to be nominated as Best Actress in a Drama Series at the upcoming Emmy Awards for the wonderful Killing Eve and I really hope she wins.
I know I should watch Fresh Off the Boat because it has an Asian family at its core and I’ve only heard great things about Constance Wu and how she is very funny in it but I am afraid to watch as I fear that I will see Asian stereotypes on that show. That fear prevented me from watching Kim’s Convenience but glad I did watch the show because it is very funny and while the family is Korean, I can relate to the family dynamic too.
It does make me mad to hear that Hollywood still whitewashes roles. From Emma Stone in Aloha to Scarlett Johansson in The Ghost in the Shell to hearing that Hollywood wanted to whitewash Crazy Rich Asians. This doesn’t surprise me but glad that the author Kevin Kwan stuck to his guns.
Crazy Rich Asians is pretty much any romantic comedy that you see in film but it just happens to feature an all-Asian cast. It has all the tropes you want in a rom-com from the formidable mom that the leading lady has to impress, the wardrobe/makeover montage scene and the sassy best friend. And can I say how hilarious Awkwafina was in the movie. I just wish there was more of her in this film as she was just laugh out loud funny in every scene she was in. There were numerous scenes that brought back happy memories for me like when Rachel and Nick land in Singapore and immediately get dinner at a street market. It reminded me of my trip to Hong Kong. The scene where Nick brings Rachel to make dumplings with his family reminded me of when I would make Won-tons with my dad. The Mahjong scene also reminded me of playing with my dad.
It does warm my heart that Crazy Rich Asians was number one at the box office defying expectations and that there is going to be a sequel. Another movie I am looking forward to seeing next year is the live-action version of Mulan and seeing more of Rose Tico in Star Wars: Episode IX.
I am hoping the success of Crazy Rich Asians does lead to more and more Asians being cast in leading Hollywood roles on film and TV.