While much of the world welcomes the start of the holiday season, this weekend brings great cheer for moviegoers in China who happen to adore a certain novel by Kevin Kwan. Yes, Nov 30 marks the opening date in China for “Crazy Rich Asians” the movie.
The movie hasn’t even hit the theaters yet and many of my chat groups filled with other women with Chinese husbands and boyfriends are buzzing about the film. And why not? “Crazy Rich Asians” is the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade, and it hopes to cash in on the same success in China, poised to become the world’s largest movie market.
But while “Crazy Rich Asians” could enjoy a splendid run in here in the Middle Kingdom, Chinese audiences already have a different perspective on the film.
Just consider its Chinese title, zhāijīn qíyuán (摘金奇缘), which others have translated into English as everything from “Tales of Gold-Digging” to “Gold-Picking Romance” or even “An Unexpected Gold-Digging Romance”.
It’s a bit misleading, as the character of Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, isn’t dating the “crazy-rich” Nick Young for his money, and doesn’t initially know he’s the scion of one of Singapore’s wealthiest families. But it does suggest that, here in China, people see “Crazy Rich Asians” through a different lens.
Look at what some Chinese have had to say about “Crazy Rich Asians” the movie on China’s movie review site Douban, including this:
One user criticized the film for its lack of authenticity, comparing it to Americanized Chinese food. “As a native Asian, I feel it’s like eating General Tso’s chicken in a Chinese restaurant” in a foreign country, chimed in someone in Los Angeles who goes by the moniker Durian Cake Brother (link in Chinese). “It looks like a film about Asians, but the spirit of it is American. The leading actress is an ABC. The story is about how Asians look in the eyes of the Americans.”
Professor Han Li, in an opinion piece for Sixth Tone, also writes in a similar vein about “Crazy Rich Asians”, singling out perceptions of the character Rachel Chu as a potential point of difference:
Despite my reservations about the movie’s portrayal of Chinese culture, there’s no doubt it struck a chord with Asian American audiences. It’s less clear, however, whether it would be met with the same reception in China, should it open here. The character of Rachel, in particular, might not be quite as popular. While some viewers may appreciate her depiction as a young, independent professional and be impressed with the way she has realized the American dream as a second-generation Chinese immigrant, others might see her not as the movie wants them to, but as Eleanor does — Chinese on the outside, American on the inside.
Jeff Yang echoes that in a piece about “Crazy Rich Asians” prospects in China, saying:
…the very thing that made “Crazy Rich Asians” so meaningful to Asians in the US might have given China’s cinematic powers-that-be pause: its focus on the global Chinese diaspora in America and Singapore.
…most Chinese don’t understand or find interest in the identity politics of more racially diverse societies like the US. The experience of Chinese Americans feels niche in China, where Chinese are the mainstream.”
Indeed, speaking of identity politics, don’t expect viewers or critics here to chime in on some of the controversies that arose in the West surrounding casting decisions (like having half-white/half-Asian Henry Golding play Nick Young, which some perceived as whitewashing). China has embraced many mixed-race celebrities (such as Fei Xiang), so it’s hard to imagine audiences having concerns about Golding.
Overall, these differences in perspective have a lot of critics uncertain about the film’s prospects in China, with some (like Victor Zheng at SupChina) even forecasting the possibility of a flop.
Nevertheless, as Jeff Yang notes, “Ultimately, of course, the biggest driver of the success of the film in China is likely to be its outsized success in America.” After all the movie topped the box offices for a record three weeks and raked in an incredible $230 million plus to date. That kind of triumph may be enough to power a strong run in China. We’ll see.
In the meantime, as for one tiny little demographic here in China — foreigners dating or married to Chinese — if the chat room conversations I’ve seen are any measure, I expect many of us will flock to the theaters in China for “Crazy Rich Asians”, success or no. Movie meetup, anyone?
What do you think about “Crazy Rich Asians” the movie in China? Do you feel audiences will embrace the movie anyhow? Or do you foresee a flop for the movie market in China?