Monday 3 September 2018

Crazy Rich Asians should have been called High SES Chinese & starred Scarlett Johansson

Dear Kevin Kwan,

Congratulations on topping the US box office for the third straight crazy rich week with the movie adaptation of your novel, Crazy Rich Asians.

Or as our Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong might call them, potential ministers.

But along with success come haters.

Not everyone in Singapore is Chinese as depicted in the movie, they complain.

But that’s not your fault.

Coming from old money yourself, you emigrated from Singapore at age 11 and evaded national service so you probably didn’t get to interact much with other races here.

“As a child, you’re cloistered in this world,” you said in an interview. “You don’t know how other people live until you leave that world and realise not everyone has an airplane in their garage.”

So you followed the old adage and just wrote what you knew.

And if the movie is anything to go by, the only non-Chinese in Singapore you knew were scary Sikh security guards.

A more accurate title for the movie would be Ridiculously High SES Asians Of Chinese Descent, but that’s probably not as catchy.

And as far as most Americans (which is what you are now) are concerned, all Asians are the same anyway.

In a few countries, even “Asians” is erased.

In Italy, the movie is called Crazy & Rich. In Germany and Japan, just Crazy Rich.

The Mexican title is Locamente Millonarios, which Google translates to Crazily Millionaires.

In Hong Kong, it’s neither crazy nor rich. The title is My Super Grand Boyfriend.

Which brings us to another criticism about the movie.

A New Paper reader wrote:
The emphasis on wealth not only creates a sense of entitlement, it reinforces the divide that exists in our community.

This divide, which appears to be growing wider, is something that needs to be dealt with and eradicated over time. Instead, a movie such as Crazy Rich Asians perpetuates the theme of being extremely wealthy and encourages it with all its flash.

Is the desire of always wanting more what we should allow to fester within each individual?

In the real world, not all can be so rich, and there are many who barely get by.

So how does this film help the cause? It only stimulates envy and bad behaviour.

In other words, what about the crazy poor Asians?

And that happens to be the title of one of the videos about Singapore posted by this Nas Daily guy from Israel last week, almost like a rebuttal to your movie.

But even then he was frustrated by claims that he was paid to make “positive videos” about Singapore.

He wrote on Facebook: “It is disheartening to see people discredit my work because of unfounded allegations. I know most of my videos are positive. But what can I do? You guys actually have some stuff figured out that many countries don’t have figured out!”

Yet we can’t seem to figure out how to prevent random wild boar attacks.

You should have had that in your movie along with the pack of local actors. It’s great to have Singaporeans besides Ng Chin Han in a truly successful Hollywood movie for once and not another misbegotten Anna And The King, soon to be remade as Anna And The Crazy Rich Royal Asian.

Although it’s a bit jarring to see Tan Kheng Hua, 55, play the mother of Constance Wu, 36, while Pierre Png, 44, who used to play Tan’s husband in Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd, now plays the husband of Gemma Chan, 35.

If only Tan and Png had a scene together in Crazy Rich Asians, she might have let out an inadvertent “Chooobs!”

Newcomer Henry Golding plays the male lead, which was protested by some because he is half Caucasian. The greater outrage is that he is half Malaysian and not even half Singaporean.

You once joked in an interview: “Personally, I’d like Emma Stone to play every single role in the movie. We’ll just CGI her.”

That was probably a reference to Stone controversially playing a one-quarter Chinese character named Allison Ng in the 2015 movie Aloha. It was a joke, right?

You’ve said in other interviews that you rejected a producer who proposed that the female lead of Crazy Rich Asians be changed to a “white girl”.

Looking back, perhaps that wasn’t such a bad idea after all.

If the movie had starred, say, Scarlett Johansson, it wouldn’t have been saddled with the burden of representation as the “ground-breaking” first contemporary Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast since Joy Luck Club.

Then it could have sidestepped the whole “Where are the dark-skinned Asians?” mess. People would be too busy condemning the movie for whitewashing.

Sure, Crazy Rich Asians is making a lot of money now, but Johansson was in Avengers: Infinity War and that made a hell lot more money, like in one weekend more than double what your little movie made in three weeks in the US alone.

You could have been crazy richer.

Next time you’re back in Singapore, we can go get some wanton mee ... no, wait...

- Published in The New Paper, 3 September 2018

EARLIER: Crazy Rich Asians trailer reminds me of Masters Of The Sea

UPDATE: Readers write in to defend Crazy Rich Asians: 'Cut it some slack'