Give due credit to Crazy Rich Asians

The gripe that Crazy Rich Asians does not contain major non-Chinese characters to reflect our multicultural society is as ridiculous as a prospective film financier's suggestion to change the ethnicity of its Chinese-American female protagonist Rachel Chu to a Caucasian one to better connect with audiences across North America via the big screen.

While the line between fact and fiction can sometimes be thin, the blockbuster does not pretend to represent Singapore society at large, but merely a slice of it.

Why ascribe deeper meaning to its intentions than necessary?

Perhaps some of these cynics might have read and watched a different version of Crazy Rich Asians from what I did - that is assuming they took the trouble to review the book and the film before jumping to their conclusions (Movie accentuates social divide, stereotypes, by Mr Manoraj Rajathurai, Aug 29; and Impressions about S'pore from movie may stick, by Mr Phillip Tan Fong Lip, Aug 31).

In both works, I came across good and bad values that transcend social class, race, nationality and stereotypes.

Surely being Singaporean - or American for that matter - ought to be much more about such shared values, than about being a rich or poor yellow, brown, black or white person.

Otherwise, why would we even regard all made-in-Singapore P. Ramlee movies as our own, given their Malay-only cast and content?

Or hail Mee Pok Man and 12 Storeys as breakthroughs in local art-house cinema when these could just as well be dismissed as cheap, melodramatic porn about struggling low-income Chinese-Singaporeans, and therefore unrepresentative of our "real" Lion City. That would have been no different from the scorn directed at the Crazy Rich Asians' portrayal of the Chinese diaspora - both the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy - and their complicated lives.

True multiculturalism and social inclusion occur only when one can relate with the so-called "others" in empathy, without injecting one's own self and kind into the equation.

For what it's worth, several Eurasians, a Filipino, a Korean, and an actress of mixed Chinese-Korean heritage were part of the Crazy Rich Asians' movie cast, which reprised Chinese characters from the book.

Mr Kevin Kwan's failure to fulfil his national service obligations, however despicable in the Singaporean context, should not detract from the universal appeal of his works.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 01, 2018, with the headline 'Give due credit to Crazy Rich Asians'. Print Edition | Subscribe