Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Only Acceptable Asian?

“Crazy Rich Asians,” directed by Jon Chu, 2018

Why would an actual leftist review such a sappy Cinderella story populated by millionaires and billionaires?  Because it's there!  The corporate film reviewers went wild for this romantic comedy, especially its ‘identity’ appeal.  So now we know that for them and Hollywood the acceptable Asian is evidently one with lots of real-estate backed cash.  Besides the loads of happy on-line review sites, here are some reviews by the more known film flim-flam commentariat:
Former Brit Colony Singapore is Owned...So Party Like It's 2018

* “Its keenest romantic impulse has less to do with Nick and Rachel’s rather pedestrian love story than with the allure of endless luxury and dynastic authority.” (NYT)
* “The result is hugely enjoyable, and hooray for Hollywood for making it happen.”(WSJ)
* “As much as this is a love story, “Crazy Rich Asians” is very much about powerful women at its center.” (Ebert)
* “Crazy Rich Asians” is a preposterously fun movie that delivers exactly what its title promises.” (Metacritic)
* “Has a movie title ever doubled better as its own elevator pitch? It’s all there in those three words: Mad money, bad behavior, a pin dropped on race and place.” (Entertainment)
* “In the guise of a bouncy romcom about insanely gorgeous rich kids enjoying their privileges, Crazy Rich Asians is making history:…” (Rolling Stone)

Oh, yeah, one Taiwanese-American called it a “muddled, shallow and empty step backwards for Asians…” and “intellectually, aesthetically, and sociologically featherweight…”

In this case, Cinderella is not a woman in a cottage sweeping up fire embers for her nasty sisters – it is a NYU professor of game theory who probably makes $150K or more a year.  All the Asians in Singapore speak excellent English, rarely Mandarin, and were ‘finished’ at Oxford, Cambridge or Cal State.  Everyone is filthy rich, while the lead characters live in mansions, throw multiple extravagant parties and outings and own huge chunks of Singapore’s modern real estate.

The tension is between the capitalist needs of a ‘good match’ for the overly handsome ‘Number One’ son, and ‘love.’ This trope started with Shakespeare in Europe in the 1300s with “Romeo & Juliet,” but is now common in many movies about love in the global South.  Can love overcome class or caste?  Religion or nationality?  Of course!  This happy myth is part of modern capitalist cultural life. The scorned NYU professor takes on the dowager empress and her deceptively kind mother, putting her tough girl dress on, and wins the grudging acceptance of the hard-boiled real estate tycooness.  And the hand of the prince!  Unlike actual statistics, which say same-class marriages are actually much more common now than in the immediate past, even in the U.S.  So the film works as a fairy tale drawn over reality, but then, duh!
Real "East" Asian Wedding in India - $100M cost, and Hillary Is Invited

But the real star of this film is not this unlikely marriage, but the wealth.  It might come as a shocker to some U.S. viewers that not everyone in Singapore (or Hong Kong, Shanghai or Seoul) still lives in a hut or tenement.  The continual feast of pools, exotic hotels, skyscrapers, extravagant houses and big boats is the real eye-candy, not just the handsomely dressed and ridiculously good-looking men and woman who seem almost – Western. The best joke of the film comes out of this.  At a table over-loaded with food at a nouveau-riche house in Singapore, the chubby father admonishes his spoiled children to eat because there are ‘kids starving in America.’  My audience laughed, as it is always good to see how others see us.

No workers are shown in the film except servants.  The Government of Singapore was birthed by the British, as it was a colony of their empire, which explains the accents.  One party, the PAP, has controlled the government since 1959, a party fond of the death penalty, killing drug users and violating freedom of speech, but also the essence of stability and a weakening ‘meritocracy.’  Housing prices are extremely high in Singapore given all that glitz, so those who have less money must commute long distances.  The working-class in Singapore is accompanied by many foreign workers and a growing underclass, especially after the 2008 economic crash.  The middle-class is shrinking.  None of this found its way into the film. 

Instead, $1.2M diamond necklaces and lots of parteees!  3 people in Singapore are part of the controlling organizations of the international capitalist class, so the 'fumes' of this wealth are reflected in this movie.

P.S. – NPR just did a segment on ‘love matches’ in India across caste, class or religion lines.  Some who marry across these lines have to go into hiding in safe houses, in fear of the violence of their intolerant relatives.  Others have to put up with abuse, isolation, violence and the loss of jobs or apartments.  

Other reviews on Asian topics or by Asian writers:  “Postcards From the End of America,” “The Sympathizer,” “The New Black,” and mentions of China, Pakistan, India or Vietnam.  Use blog search box, upper left.

And I saw it at a $2 theater!
The Kulture Kommissar
November 22, 2018

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