Crazy Rich Asians: A Love Letter to the Unbelonging

I have to be honest, I am not the most seasoned person when it comes to the concept of film. It’s funny I even use the word “seasoned.” In my household, there is no holding back with spice, as destroyed as my tolerance for it is. Still, I think I should make it clear that my relationship with film is about as short-sighted and self-indulgent as it can possibly be. I made a Letterboxd around this time last year, if that explains anything, and the only claim I had to it was the fact that I had a mason jar sitting on my bedroom desk, chock full with movie tickets. Regardless of what social standing I had suddenly been thrust into, with the Letterboxd came the inherent need to log every movie I had yet to see. Whether it was because I was broke or because I wasn’t bored enough to be in attendance of a showing, I was finally getting around to what I had missed out on. I had more than enough time on my hands, after all. I’m not exactly someone you’d call social. On a Friday night, I’m not the type of girl to belong to any one place.

I’m also not the type of girl to belong to any specific reluctancy anymore. I’ve absorbed so much within the past year alone that I feel like a completely different person. There are some films out there worthy of shaping a new you, should you choose to seek them out. All they need is an hour or two of your time and your undivided attention.

I have a movie that certainly did something to that degree. So, to contradict the statement I just made, as I tend to do a lot, this isn’t exactly a movie that would take you long to find. As the first major Hollywood film of this century to boast a majority Asian cast, it’s hard not to hear about it in passing. It was nominated for two Golden Globes this year — albeit robbed of both, and though to Olivia Colman I can concede graciously, Green Book I cannot — and it won the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Comedy as I wrote this.

Crazy Rich Asians.

At my core, I am most appreciative of the idea of the romantic comedy more so than your usual critic.

In fact, let’s get this out of the way. I am not a critic.

I hadn’t realized that about myself until rather recently. Up until then, I think a part of me had conformed to the notion that romantic comedies — romcoms, if you will — didn’t command the same respect that other genres did. It took elements of romance’s innocence and comedy’s flippancy and essentially gave you a concoction so intolerable that you couldn’t help but drag your stars to the lower end of your rating. This, like many other people, was how I was for a time. I couldn’t stomach romcoms, so I stuck to your usual blockbusters.

I can’t say that Crazy Rich Asians was the romcom that sucked me back into the world that I can now proudly claim to love, but that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that it rocked my world, and I think that’s enough to count it as such.

I saw myself in protagonist Rachel Chu almost immediately. Played by the stunning Constance Wu, she’s not the type of girl to belong to any one place. Torn between her two identities as a girl born by Chinese culture, bred by American ideal, it is hard for her to ever discern where the line between them is drawn, if there even is one at all.

Her mother can tell as much. The two share a light-hearted scene at the beginning of the movie, discussing the chaos that is to inevitably ensue while combing through racks in a dress shop. “How are they different?” Rachel questions with a scoff, referring to the overseas families synonymous to her own boyfriend Nick’s bloodline. “They’re Chinese; I’m Chinese. I’m so Chinese, I’m an economics professor with lactose intolerance.” Laugh track.

“Yeah, but you grew up here,” her mother answers firmly. “Your face is Chinese. You speak Chinese. But here. And here.” She then gestures to head and heart. “You’re different.”

Growing up as a Filipina-American in the United States, I can only say that I am lucky to have a community right here at home. It grew as I grew, starting in a single neighborhood before continuing out across our entire town. The friends I’ve made are so close to me that I could practically call them my family.

It’s odd, though. The last couple of years have brought in a number of new families, and while the influx of people is ultimately good, it’s been difficult for me to put names to faces. At gatherings, I can hardly do so without having to ask someone who’s who. As connected as I am to this community, I feel separate all the same. I have a couple of months left until college, so that could explain it. I’m growing out of the girl that got raised by them. I’m meant to move on.

It’s the same way with high school. Since freshman year, I’ve felt separate. Maybe it’s because there were so many people to leave behind and stay with. The switch from private school to public school sure was something. I lost some of my oldest friends, and I gained them again in the span of a year. I made new ones while I waited on them, yet I’d never felt more alone.

It’s hard to say if I feel the same now. Everything is susceptible to change, even our most safest places, but my junior and senior years are a serious juxtaposition of my freshman and sophomore years. I bloomed into someone new, much like the tan huas Nick’s grandmother owns. At least, that’s what I’m told, by both old and new friends alike.

So, maybe there’s a sense of unbelonging, of loneliness, of unworthiness. Maybe Rachel Chu is a deeper reflection of me than I realize. Despite all the emotion, she still found love hiding in places she didn’t intend to search. She learned to reason with a thing called acceptance. She took every flaw of hers and she slapped it right on to her tan skin. Rachel let herself be fierce in her profession, all while making peace with her ancestry in the process. Like her, I’m going after what I want, not what someone else wants for me. I should’ve been a doctor. I’m looking to write for the rest of my life, instead. I’m not the best driver, and I’m more than sure there are some sad people out there that won’t ever let me live a certain fender bender down. I wouldn’t make myself out to be quite the mathematician, either. All these are shocking, I know; I’ve accepted myself in all these ways.

“Pursuing one’s passion. How American.” There’s a version of me that toes the lines of stereotype and tradition. Maybe that’s the version of me I want to show.