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Crazy Rich Asians - embracing the hype of Asian representation in cinema, not just Hollywood (Part 2/2)

August 27, 2018

So here comes part two of my attempt to provide some thought provoking commentary on Crazy Rich Asians. Before you read this, make sure you read part one, where I lament about the importance that this film has on Asian representation in Hollywood, and popular culture in general. Even though I expected some personal resistance, I completely embraced the hype and am proud that I did. But given the timely spotlight on Crazy Rich Asians, I thought I'd shift the focus to another form of representation that deserves the attention of every Asian person out there: the representation of Asians in cinema, period.

 

There's been so much coverage on Crazy Rich Asians these past few weeks, and both the film itself and its impact on Hollywood has been dissected to no end. I mean that in a good way, because it's about damn time that an Asian American film get this kind of coverage. But reading through all this great material, I'd be remiss if I didn't take this opportunity to endorse something related to the topic of Asian representation. That is, the representation of Asians in local cinemas internationally.

 

I wrote about this in my first entry, but I completely understand that seeing an Asian person in (for example) a Hong Kong film speaking Cantonese, is different from seeing an Asian person speaking English in a Hollywood film. Being a Canadian Chinese who relates and identifies more strongly with Western culture, I completely get that. But despite saying this, I still think that seeing an Asian person in a local Asian film has the ability to fill the representation gap in some way. Full disclosure, having grown up in a household that valued entertainment from Hong Kong (where my parents were originally from),  I've been following Hong Kong cinema for as long as I remember. I therefore consider movies from Hong Kong to be part of my 'local' cinema, just as Hollywood (and Canadian!) movies are. So I get that experiencing some degree of representation from these movies might come easier for me.

 

But even if I didn't have a level of attachment to Hong Kong cinema, or understood its language and culture, I think the act of seeing Asian people on screen is still very powerful and important. As important and impactful as Crazy Rich Asians was, we only got a glimpse of representation in that film. We got to see representation in the form of a romantic comedy, which is a huge deal given the historic context that the genre carries in Hollywood. Introducing the concept of indifference between Western culture and Asian values in a Hollywood film was particularly groundbreaking. But after getting this very important glimpse, wouldn't the next step be to see Asian people do all the other 'normal' things that Western actors normally do in movies? Meaning, seeing an Asian political thriller, heist film, medical drama, domestic drama, etc?

 

Well guess what? You can see Asian people in all those things by just crossing the ocean (figuratively speaking) and exploring Asian cinema. I know it's not the same language or cultural norms, and the locations of those films make it hard to fully relate things back to our own lives. But trust me, seeing Asian people - even if you can't relate to them as much as you would an Asian North American - still does the trick. It fills this gap in representation that Hollywood is hopefully going to address moving forward, and has been doing so for more than 100 years. Even though I'm Chinese and relate most to Hong Kong cinema, I still experience the same impact of 'being seen' when I watch movies from Korea, Japan, or any other Asian country.

 

Being a fan of Asian cinema and actively keeping up with it is one of the reasons why I never really had a huge problem with representation. I mean, don't get me wrong, I always understood that Asians were not well represented in Hollywood and American movies are still my primary jam. But even though I knew this was a problem, it never bothered me as much because I always had Asian cinema to make me feel like my own self was well represented on screen. I never doubted that an Asian person could be anything on screen, because I've seen them be everything. It happens all the time in Asian cinema, and the best part is, Asian films are truly amazing. There's over 100 years of history, and although the cinemas in general don't have the overall commercial and blockbuster appeal as Hollywood films do, they are equally as deserving in their own right.

 

It's true that I've written about this before, and to prevent this post from becoming a long rant (which I'm already at risk of doing), I'll just end by saying this: if you're a proud Asian American, Asian Canadian, or Asian whatever, you should be a proud Asian, period. As evidenced by an impressive minuscule drop in its second weekend box office numbers, there are a lot of proud Asians in North America. All I'm trying to do is give a little nudge to those proud peeps, and remind them that there are so many additional industries of films out there for your to be proud of. Don't just be proud of an Asian American movie, be proud of all Asian movies. Trust me, you won't regret it.

 

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