The Asian community has given Crazy Rich Asians its love, but it's not unconditional. Another famous Hollywood Asian movie three decades ago can serve as a cautionary tale.
I remember Joy Luck Club, our first Crazy Rich Asians, our original Asian hope. It seems crazy now, but there was a time Joy Luck Club couldn’t be criticized. Oh, everyone in the theater knew it was flawed, but there was an unspoken rule among Asians: you don’t mortalize a tide that can raise other yellow ships. But then it happened: nothing. No more Hollywood Asian movies.
Whispers of disdain quickly turned into a tsunami of criticism. Joy Luck Club, Asians said, gives bad stereotypes, a product of white Hollywood. To find an Asian nowadays who’d admit liking Joy Luck Club is akin to finding a Nixon voter after his impeachment.
And that’s the stage we’re heading as the honeymoon period of Crazy Rich Asians is about over. The Asian community has given the film its overwhelming love, but that love isn’t unconditional. We expect this movie to shepherd more Asian- starring Hollywood films and that’s something I warned about in my Crazy Rich Inkblot article.
Yes, I said it. Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a perfect film.
So it’s of great interest that another Asian-American film, Searching, came out a week after the opening of Crazy Rich Asians. Searching‘s a much different creature, not only in its story, but of its origins as the little indie film that could. By fate of their close opening dates and their only connection being Asian, Searching has axiomatically, fair or not, become an early litmus test for Crazy Rich Asians.
If, by logic, most Asians supported Crazy Rich Asians primarily because it was Asian, and also, by logic, Hollywood is truly believing that Asians are a market to invest, Searching should’ve been the first immediate ship risen by Crazy Rich Asians‘ tide. But presently, it hasn’t. In fact, on its opening weekend, the biggest American city, New York, only showed it in three theaters. This, of course, happens because of a variety of factors, but the bigger red flag to me was when I noticed the many Asians who were ecstatically hyping Crazy Rich Asians didn’t do so for Searching.
Sure, Searching looks a bit scary, but I don’t buy that excuse because one can still recommend it to others even if they don’t watch it themselves. Searching’s a thriller, not a horror movie. And lack of stars? John Cho’s a heartthrob. Very rarely will I not blame Hollywood and white America, but on Searching‘s lackluster prestige I point the finger on some of us. Maybe not you. Definitely not me (I wouldn’t shut up about it on social media).
I’m talking about the Asians who took a million selfies of Crazy Rich Asian tickets, brought their whole family and friends to Crazy Rich Asians and repeated “Crazy Rich Asians! Go see it!” to their non- Asian co-workers, yet not a damn word on Searching. Yes, those Asians are the problem.
Searching is every bit important in our fight for more diversity in Hollywood. “Diversity” isn’t just about yellow faces; it’s about different Asian voices and different tastes within our very non-monolithic communities. For example, I went with the same friend to watch Crazy Rich Asians and Searching. She ended up liking Crazy Rich Asians more while I enjoyed Searching more. That’s beautiful. That’s what I want for Asian-Americans: a range of movies that suits individual tastes.
Crazy Rich Asians will ultimately be judged by its impact or failure of impact to raise other Hollywood Asian films. As of this moment, it’s career suicide to say anything negative about it, but I’ll trailblaze: Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a perfect film. Yes, I said it. Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a perfect film.
What we’re witnessing is the return of the great Asian hope and I’m hoping for a different ending than Joy Luck Club three decades ago. Searching is an incredible Asian-American cast film that deserves our love too. If we can come out en masse and make Crazy Rich Asians a success, we can surely do the same for Searching. Otherwise, if a lack of diverse Hollywood Asian films results from the Crazy Rich Asians phenomenon, it’s going to be a harsh 180-degree turn of public opinion on Crazy Rich Asians.
The movie has flaws we’ve conveniently ignored and the critics who were salivating to tear it down will mercilessly do so. Without the identity of “impact”, Crazy Rich Asians will be difficult on its own to defend. Cheer for Crazy Rich Asians by supporting Searching.