Crazy Rich Asians is, by necessity and design, a romantic comedy meant to appeal to an array of audiences. But make no mistake: It’s not a movie that just happens to feature actors of Asian descent. Director Jon M. Chu, co-writer Adele Lim, and star Constance Wu, among others, strived to make a film that would be culturally resonant for Asian American moviegoers. That means not only celebrating the distinctness and the pride of an Asian American identity as distinct from Asian culture—a central theme of the picture—but also sneaking in more than a few Easter eggs for Asian American viewers that might go over the heads of other audience members. Here are Crazy Rich Asians’ most notable winks to its natural fanbase. (Spoilers ahead.)
Kevin Kwan’s cameo. In a true blink-and-miss-it appearance, the Crazy Rich Asians novelist, credited as “Texting Author,” pops on screen for about half a second in the hilarious web of text messages that sends news of Nick’s girlfriend pinging back to Singapore well before his arrival. Kwan’s “character” is rather appropriate, given the writer’s own origins in the gossipy Singaporean aristocracy.
A tribute to The Joy Luck Club? Perhaps it wasn’t initially intended as such, but the casting of Lisa Lu—who plays Nick’s grandmother in Crazy Rich Asians and embodied one of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club—plays as a likely homage to the 1993 Wayne Wang film, the last studio film with an Asian American story at its center.
A salute to singer Kina Grannis and Asian American YouTubers. Trust Singaporean gajillionaires to fly in a famous act for the wedding of the century. Perhaps Colin and Araminta are one of Kina Grannis’ 1.3 million YouTube subscribers who have made the digital vocalist one of the video platform’s breakthrough musicians. Grannis’ inclusion in the film also can’t help feeling like an acknowledgement of Asian American persistence. While the mainstream entertainment industries have largely shut them out, actors, comedians, and musicians of Asian descent have kept their creative juices flowing by building their own fandoms and communities on YouTube. (Thanks to reporter Rebecca Sun for pointing this one out to me.)
Surprise Harry Shum Jr. You might be wondering why an actor who’s seen for fewer than 10 seconds in a sequel-launching post-credit sequence is billed sixth, just after Awkwafina, who plays a major supporting role as the scene-stealing best friend. That’s because the Glee and Shadowhunters actor, who first collaborated with director Jon M. Chu on Step Up 2 the Streets, has long been, er, admired by Asian Americans for his square jaw, chiseled chest, and I’m sure a few other qualities as well.
Asian manners and customs. Sure, Crazy Rich Asians also could have been called Crazy Rude Asians, but one of the movie’s subtler charms is how often its characters observe traditional mores with no one batting an eye. Awkwafina’s loudmouthed Peik Lin may defy all sorts of stereotypes about Asian women, but she still lives with her parents as a single woman, as she would be expected to do. When Peik Lin is invited to an ultra-exclusive party at Nick’s grandmother’s house, she refuses twice first—“I couldn’t impose”—before accepting. It’s also fitting that Rachel is introduced as Nick’s “friend” to many members of his family. Everyone knows that he’s in love with her, but until things are made official with an engagement ring, it’s “safer”—and wish-fulfilling—for those around him to avoid the G-word.
A gentle mockery of plastic surgery. If there’s one thing that Asian Americans generally tend to find off-putting about East Asian cultures, it’s probably the greater embrace of going under the knife for cosmetic reasons on the other side of the Pacific. (It doesn’t help that one way the Western view of Asians as “weird” and “foreign” is perpetuated is by obsessively focusing on the region’s plastic-surgery culture.) When Rachel runs away from a pack of mean girls jealous of her relationship with Nick, one of them scoffs, “She’s not even that pretty. She’s not even heard of plastic surgery.” The line rings true for its materialistic character—she really would be that shallow. But Rachel is comfortable with who she is—that’s the point of the film. For many Asian Americans, the fleeting line may serve as one more small but satisfying reminder that, when it comes to certain issues, we sometimes feel more American than Asian.