Last week I watched a preview of filmmaker Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians in Silicon Valley. It was pretty entertaining and I was laughing throughout the film as were other Asian-Americans in the audience. I connected with the film and realized that I was not bored even for a wee bit. But to my puzzlement the two gentlemen seated next to me barely laughed. Why, why I wondered were they not laughing as much as the rest of us?
When the end credits of Crazy Rich Asians started rolling I turned to one them and asked if they enjoyed the film with c-u-r-i-o-s-i-t-y written all over my face. He shrugged. Now, I really got curious and asked if he had seen any Bollywood films? Quite a few was his answer. Then you should be familiar with this genre that are a bit over-the-top rom-com films I offered. Although Crazy Rich Asians did not have the familiar Bollywood song and dance routine, the film featured quite a bit of jazz music inspired from the 1920s and 1930s. My suggestions did not help.
As I made my way out of the theatre that big light bulb went off in my head. I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians because of my steady diet of Bollywood films. Like many Bollywood films Crazy Rich Asians revolves around the familiar theme of boy (Henry Golding) meets girl (Constance Wu), boy’s family esp the mother (Michelle Yeoh) protests and throws a monkey wrench at the love birds and they separate. But, somehow things work out and they get married in a real grand manner. And like Bollywood films there is comic relief provided in Crazy Rich Asians by Awkafina and Ken Jeong. End of story.
What makes Crazy Rich Asians similar to 21stc version of Bollywood films is that the story is set in an exotic location and by the time you are done watching the picture you are planning a trip to that exotic location. Crazy Rich Asians is set in Singapore. And, if you have ever been to Singapore you know about the obligatory tour of Changi Airport, the quay, hawker food court, Orchard Road and the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. You get that and a lot more in Crazy Rich Asians and I am betting my bottom dollar that quite a few people in the audience were already plotting a trip to Singapore.
So, from a 30,000 feet height there is some commonality between Bollywood films and Crazy Rich Asians. But, then when you zoom down and unbox the story you can see they are different in terms of cultural and social nuances. More importantly, Crazy Rich Asians is a film about Asian-Americans made in Hollywood after a significant gap. The last film that I remember is Joy Luck Club set in San Francisco.
May I point you to a Hollywood Reporter article that rounds up what other critics have to say about Crazy Rich Asians since my perspective is colored by my Bollywood lens. When you watch a Bollywood film you want to be entertained, you escape to an alternate realty that you know is not possible and you tend to be forgiving (to some degree) with the poetic license that the director takes. Similarly, Crazy Rich Asians is a film that entertains you and is not a film about addressing complex social issues in the Asian-American community or the divide between haves and have-nots.
Crazy Rich Asians is currently playing in a theatre near you in the San Francisco Bay area. Just go watch it lah, it is totally unique film.
Photo Credits: Warner Bros. Pictures