Alright, so I may be late to the game, but I’m here to talk about Kevin Kwan’s famous book about the lifestyles of the rich and famous in Asia, Crazy Rich Asians. I’ll also talk about the film adaptation, because it’s pretty much impossible not to.
Let’s start with a disclaimer: I am very, very white. I have no personal experience with Asian family dynamics or anything like that. However, I am from the Vancouver area, a place that gets occasional shout outs in the series for it’s large number of rich Chinese families living here, and I did go to UBC, which the book calls the “University of a Billion Chinese” (while we know about this title, most people I knew preferred its other nickname, the “University of Building Construction,” as there are always several large projects on the go, blocking your shortcuts and generally getting in the way!). Most of my friends are Asian, and through my work, I’ve come across people who are not unlike some of the tycoons mentioned in the novel. So that’s my disclaimer – I have no personal experience with this, and so I may get things wrong along the way, since my cultural viewpoint is definitely different from the one of the novel.
I know that sometimes I see a bestseller and go “What??? Really? How is that so popular?” Or I think of other bestsellers that haven’t been all too well written (50 Shades, romance novels, gritty detective novels from authors that churn them out seemingly every week) – sometimes I get jaded about the bestseller lists, and think that just because something sells well, doesn’t mean that it’s written well. In general, I get sceptical about things that get wildly successful. After all, I went through that whole Twilight thing when I was 12, and a lot of book crazes remind me of that.
So I was a little sceptical about Crazy Rich Asians as well. The one thing that the books had going for them was that a friend of mine had told me about them well over a year ago – way before they became sensationalized and boosted to the top of the bestseller lists. And that friend was totally right! I could not put this book down. It was a page turner in the best way: not only was the plot great and fast moving, but the writing was fantastic. I love a good satire, and this book was full of pointed wit. And, in case you were worried that you don’t know enough about Singapore, Chinese culture, or any of the languages spoken in the book, you’re in luck – Kevin Kwan makes use of the footnotes as a space for hilarious commentary and explanation.
I loved this book. It’s hilarious. The satire is brilliant, and almost Austenian at times. It was nuanced, and the characters all felt real and full of life. Kevin Kwan definitely knows how to write. In case you don’t already know, the basic premise of the novel is that Nick (who comes from a family so rich and secretive that they’re entirely unknown in Singapore, where they live) brings his American girlfriend, Rachel, to his best friends wedding in Singapore. His mother is furious that he’s dating a Chinese-American Econ prof, and she wants him to end it with her (and many of her friends also want this, as they try to pawn their daughters off onto him). There are side plots involving Nick’s glamorous cousin Astrid (who’s marriage seems to be falling apart, because he husband is sensitive about being poorer than her), Rachel’s experience of a stupidly exorbitant bachelorette party on a private island (not great), the need to keep up appearances at all costs, and the wedding of a century.
If I haven’t recommended this book highly enough yet, here’s another thing. I rarely read a whole series back to back, as I find that I can get tired of the characters. I often try to space other books between them, to give my little brain space to breathe and a quick break. But when I finished the first book, I immediately started the next one. And when I finished China Rich Girlfriend, I wanted to start on the third (Rich People Problems). Unfortunately, I’m borrowing the books from a friend, so I’ll have to wait to get the next one, but I’m eager to start!
Now on to the movie, which is the reason that the book is so popular at this moment.
I went to the movie the day I finished the book, which may have been a mistake. Now the movie is not a bad adaptation by any means! I had a blast watching it; it was beautifully made, funny and poignant. But, as with most film adaptations of novels, a lot has to get lost along the way. After all, you can’t fit a 500 page novel into two-hour long movie! I was sad about the nuance that was lost through the adaptation, but overall, the plot was the same, and the spirit of the novel was definitely there! Even my Irish granny had blast watching it!
As I mentioned earlier, I live in an area with a high Asian population, and so I’ve had a lot of conversations about representation in media over the years. I think back to how I felt watching Wonder Woman, with one of the first truly strong female superheroes, one of the first female led action movies that I actually loved and related to. Representation is so important, and Crazy Rich Asians did it so well. I’ve seen tweets and blog posts and videos on the internet from people saying that this movie meant so much to them. I saw a video of Constance Wu crying when talking about this movie. So even if this movie had sucked (which, to reiterate, it really, really didn’t), the cultural work that it performed was phenomenal. It’s made over $200 million in the box office, and has proved that you don’t need white people in a movie to make it funny, relatable, or just good.
I would highly recommend reading Crazy Rich Asians. And if you’re not a book person (first off, why are you here?? Not that I’m complaining, of course!), go watch the film! If you’ve already read it, what were your thoughts? Was the movie as good as the book?