Crazy Rich Asians clocks in with a crazy opening weekend

The cast of Crazy Rich Asians. The US romantic comedy-drama film is breaking all expectations at the box office.
The cast of Crazy Rich Asians. The US romantic comedy-drama film is breaking all expectations at the box office.PHOTO: NYTIMES

LOS ANGELES (XINHUA) - Buoyed up by electric industry buzz, American romantic comedy-drama film Crazy Rich Asians is breaking all expectations at the box office, soaring past US$21 million (S$28.7 million) in three days since opening on Wednesday (Aug 15) - no small feat for an Asian-centric movie in the US market.

To put that in context, the lifetime total of another well-known, all-Asian cast film, Farewell My Concubine, Miramax's Oscar-nominated, Mandarin-language 1993 release, grossed only US$5 million across its entire eight-week lifespan in theatres.

But Crazy Rich Asians is breaking barriers beyond the box office too. Not since Disney's Buena Vista release of Joy Luck Club 25 years ago has a Hollywood studio produced an English-language film with an all-Asian cast.

The Warner Bros film's producer John Penotti told Xinhua: "This is a film we knew had to be made, and made right." Fans everywhere seem to agree.

African American Emmy-winning writer Lena Waithe tweeted that she bought out an entire theatre's worth of tickets herself to promote another minority culture.

The highest-grossing Asian-centric studio movie to date, the Joy Luck Club, based on Amy Tan's bestselling novel, earned a lifetime gross of US$33 million, a figure that Crazy Rich Asians is estimated to eclipse in just its five-day opening weekend.

"Hollywood is always influenced by the money, so the minute they see something work everyone rushes to make 10 copycats," Kevin Kwan, author with the novel of the same name and one of the film's executive producers, said in a recent interview on CNN.

 
 

Angie Han, deputy entertainment editor from Mashable.com, agreed. "It could remind the industry that it's not just superheroes in Spandex that can get people in seats."

The film is a lush Cinderella-story extravaganza that verges on "luxury porn." It centres on the lives of the Youngs, an elite, super-rich Singaporean-Chinese family, and their inner circle of hedonistic, Gucci-gobbling jet setters.

The New York Times called the film "an unabashed celebration of luxury and money, with hints of class conflict that have more to do with aspiration than envy or anger, set in an Asia miraculously free of history or politics". Young's close-knit family is thrown into turmoil when the handsome, young male heir of their vast family empire falls in love with humble Chinese-American economics professor at New York University Rachel Chu. She is the daughter of a poor, single mum, and has no aspirations to being wealthy or elite.

She struggles with the unwanted repercussions of her mysterious boyfriend's wealth and power when they begin to interfere with their freedom to follow their own dreams.

The hunky male lead Henry Golding said the film is "About love: a boy who loves a girl, a family separating true love, and family values of love, and about... crazy rich Asians!" Schmooze.com pointed out that the Asian male leads in the film broke the mould by casting stunningly attractive Asian men.

"If there is any logic in the world, Henry Golding is now going to be a bankable movie star and public heart-throb," wrote Schmoose. "It can't be denied how important that is for Asian-Americans who almost never see themselves represented as leading men."

USC's Annenberg Report On Diversity in Entertainment in 2016 of over 400 films and TV shows from 10 major media companies found that "at least half or more of all cinematic, television, or streaming stories fail to portray one speaking or named Asian or Asian American on screen".

Author Kwan addressed this point: "But this is what happens: we pave the way, we create new narratives, we shatter the stereotypes and we move forward." Producers and directors drew their all-Asian cast from all over the world: China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, England and America.

British-born talk show host Trevor Noah said the film was "surprisingly diverse". "It covers so many aspects of Asian life."

Malaysian-born actress Michelle Yeoh was a showstopper as the stone cold matriarch of the family, who herself married "above her station", then spent her life trying to measure up.

Another standout performer was Chinese-American rapper and Internet personality Nora Lum, known by the stage name Awkwafina, who virtually stole the show as Rachel's friend Peik Lin.

"Asians are coming out of the screenings crying and they don't really know why. And I think it's because they've been represented," Awkwafina told late night host Jimmy Kimmel. "When you don't have representation growing up, you don't know how to materialise your dreams. You don't even know it's possible." And that representation shows a different vision of Asia than Westerners are used to: One that is prosperous, creative and forward-looking.

Awkwafina is very hopeful for the future. "I think times are changing. And it really takes discussions about whitewashing to realise America is not one colour," she said. "It's a giant melting pot, and there are so many ways people can relate to movies, to music. I think Hollywood is realising they can reflect that."