We have caught glimpses of how the wealthy New Yorkers from the Upper East Side live it up in Gossip Girl and we have seen and heard of the riches of the Arabs, but the concept of East Asians and South-East Asians being added into the mix is still foreign.
With Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, we are introduced into this world of drama and intrigue while simultaneously forcing us to leave behind any tired stereotypes that we have seen over and over again.
The author throws us into the world of Singapore’s elite, the Young-T’sien-Shang clan – the closest Kwan’s version of Singapore has to a royal family – who sport Hunstman blazers with matching Queen’s English accents and jet off across the world upon request.
The story starts off with Nick Young, Singapore’s – and some say Asia’s – most eligible bachelor, getting ready for his best friend’s wedding in Singapore with the trying task of introducing his girlfriend, Rachel Chu, an ABC – American Born Chinese –, to his family. It sounds like a relatable tale until we go further along into the plot and realise that it’s not just a regular story of meeting the In-Laws.
Not when your future In-Laws happen to be the richest and most reclusive (read: exclusive in the most literal sense) family in the country on the other side of the world. Rachel is put into a world that’s different from her own and her boyfriend who – in her eyes at least – seems to be a different person. It’s easy to see how she might be shaken, surrounded by people who aren’t sure what to make of her either.
Hilarity ensues as the story unfolds and cultural clashes emerge. The characters are hilariously over the top and surprisingly familiar despite the seemingly foreign universe. There’s a play on Asian stereotypes that we are not used to seeing and it’s surprisingly refreshing.
We get to see cigar-puffing Asian tycoons with mistresses; ABCs who are “overconfident and overfamiliar” according to Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young; Taiwanese tornadoes who are allegedly gold-diggers; interfering mothers, aunts and friends of mothers itching to pair you off with their daughters and nieces; Chuppies (Chinese yuppies), just to name a few.
It certainly is an eye-opening look on a whole group of people that most of us didn’t even know exists, but we still get the staple of any comedy like the Catty shopaholics who never really showed any growth after high school and English public school boys that we have seen in movies like the Riot Club that have grew up with more money than they knew what to do with.
What the book does so beautifully, is expand on the type of Asians that we are used to seeing in the mainstream media. As previously mentioned in our article for Empower2017, Asians are pigeonholed into stereotypes involving being the genius sidekick or the inevitable martial arts experts in every movie. Kwan, however, manages to pull you into this world and make you want to stay in it with his multi-faceted and rich characters.
These characters are proudly Asian and you don’t forget that with the constant peppering of Hokkien, Malay, and Mandarin words in their vernacular, but beyond that, they are so much more than their culture. More often than not, Asians are seen as an homogenous group of people but this book, and its movie adaptation, aim to point out and highlight the immense diversity of an ethnicity that sadly has been simplified to “Asian people” for years now.
The novel features Mainland Chinese, Singaporeans, Asian Australians and Asian Americans among others in a contemporary setting and differentiates someone who grew up in America, for example, as compared to someone who grew up in Asia.
This is highlighted when Rachel’s mother repeatedly tells her to not look at the situation through “American eyes” but rather, as a Chinese.
Harry once said that one way to break stereotypes is only to create new ones. (video at 6:00)
“Creating a mass of variety might be the only way to assure that the media will eventually lose its grip on currently widespread stereotypes that are misconstrued as fact, and eventually shatter them entirely.”
One important thing that Kwan was trying to do was to “bridge the gap between East and West” and we believe that he has done just that.
There is no doubt that the story is a fresh look into a world that not many of us know of yet, but the story and all its characters have heart. The plot features heartbreak and relationships between families and friends. There is an emphasis on how Asian characters are able to retain their culture without necessarily being foreign.
The balance that Kwan has struck between very real problems that all of us face and the almost fantastical lives (no, seriously – only in our wildest dreams we can imagine buying a hotel because the concierge was rude to us, but it happens in the prologue of the book) that these crazy rich people live is stunning. It certainly makes for a perfect story, and is one of the many reasons why it was completely impossible for us to put this book down.
He has managed to take a group of people who are hilariously unreliable and somehow brought them down to earth. Reading the novel is certainly an entire experience that will have you giggling and maybe even shed a tear or two.
Ultimately, Crazy Rich Asians is a classic retelling of a love story we have seen many times – a romance rocked by family and tradition.
Come next summer, the film adaptation of the book comes out and we cannot be more excited. The film boasts an all-Asian cast with an Asian director and is completely set and filmed on the sunny island of Singapore. As mentioned above, the story features a plethora of Asian people of different nationalities and this definitely translates into the film. Director Jon M. Chu fulfilled the promise he made a year ago, that every role will be filled with an Asian actor, saying that it was “worth it” and that “the best thing we ever did on this movie was cast this cast”.
Looking at the line up, it’s easy to see why the cast would be a strong selling point of this film. Constance Wu, a Chinese American, is set to play Rachel Wu while Singapore-based actor Henry Golding, who is half Iban and half British, has been cast to play the handsome and dreamy Nick Young. Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh plays Nick’s overbearing mother, British actress Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong who is Nick’s cousin and our very own Harry Shum Jr. who plays Charlie Wu, Astrid’s ex-fiancé.
While the cast is certainly something to look forward to, it seems that they didn’t hold back at all with sets and costumes either – if the released stills are anything to go by.
Constance Wu described the story as “a fantastic world [that] still deals with human problems that anyone from any financial bracket can have, but we have really cool scenery and costumes and a guy with a British accent”.
Author Kevin Kwan said, upon watching the first cut of the film adaptation, that the story unfolds just how he imagined. The movie definitely sounds promising if it translates as well onto screen and we cannot wait to see how the words will come to life.
With all the excitement around the cast, we are of course looking forward to seeing Harry on the big screen. It’s been too long, and we certainly miss it.
In Crazy Rich Asians, Harry will be playing Charlie Wu, Astrid’s ex-boyfriend who never really fell out of love with her. Charlie is a billionaire, but was not from “old-money” the way Astrid’s family is from. Without spoiling anything, there is no doubt that everyone is going to be falling head over heels for Charlie. With his good looks and his natural charm, we can’t think of anyone better than Harry to play the knight in shining armour in this story.
I’m made up of 10% Char Kway Teow and 10% chocolate milkshakes and 80% food related humour. I have a love for writing, puns and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. My biggest dream in life is to be Rosa Diaz or marry her. I’m still undecided. On ShumDario News, I help with updates, writing, graphics and the occasional listening ear.