When the first few clips and images from “Crazy Rich Asians” were released, the Asian American community was immediately buzzing. Excitement ran high and expectations were even higher — finally, an Asian American blockbuster film with a star-studded Asian cast.
Then came “To All The Boys I Loved Before”, then “Always Be My Maybe” and it became impossible to not notice the pattern. Asian American cinema has an obsession with romantic comedy tropes.
There’s no denying that “Crazy Rich Asians” was shot beautifully. The visuals, the fashion and color coordination all incorporated refreshing touches of Asian culture into a genre that has long remained Western-centric in American cinema.
However, in terms of substance, it’s just a collection of romance genre clichés we’ve all seen before. Two lovers that come from two very different worlds, a filthy rich, smoking hot boyfriend who never gets his head turned, a disapproving mother, a poor but hard-working female lead desperately trying to fit into a world she’s not familiar with. From the Cinderella makeover montage to the final scene when Nick chases down Rachel and proposes to her right before her flight takes off, this trope has been exhausted in both Western cinema and Korean dramas.
Within a few days after the blockbuster film hit U.S. cinemas, fans within the Asian American communities were quick to label “Crazy Rich Asians” the “Black Panther” and “Get Out” for Asian Americans. “Black Panther” and “Get Out” were cinematic masterpieces with original ideas, and while I hate to say it, Asian American cinema has miles to go before we can achieve the same level of originality. In this sense, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a stepping stone, not the big celebration at the end of a marathon.
Asian American creatives often look up to African American creators and their stories and stunning visual directions. But to get to the same level of complexity as “Get Out”, “Us”, “Moonlight”, or “If Beale Street Could Talk”, we certainly can’t settle for a collection of romantic comedies.
The fault doesn’t lie with the creators or actors or even the writers of these romantic comedies. In a sense, I believe it’s the genre itself that’s too restricting and superficial to be able to tell an original story that will leave a mark in cinematic history. When representation is the best thing about a film, and the storyline cannot stand on its own, it’s hard to be satisfied.
Similarly, “Always Be My Maybe” was beautifully shot, emotional and at the same time, comical — but it’s just the classic first love/friends to lovers trope with a big, public declaration at the end. While my love for Ali Wong, Randall Park and Keanu Reeves will surely have me returning to rewatch this film several times in the future, the repetition of generic romance plotlines has certainly left me wanting more.
Being able to see two Asian people in love on screen is a great start, and I am in no way criticizing these films or their creators, but it’s certainly important to show the world that the Asian American community has more to offer. I hope future generations of Asian children can grow up watching strong, Asian superheroes and I hope older audiences can see their struggles regarding racial identities translated into excitingly new, yet relatable ways on screen.
However, we’re still waiting for these films. “Crazy Rich Asians” and “Always Be My Maybe” have paved the way for other Asian creatives to tell their stories and since then we’ve heard the announcement of Awkwafina’s “The Farewell” and Marvel’s “Shang-Chi”.
Asian American cinema has had a promising start, but it’s what we do and create within the next few years that could determine the success and quality of Asian stories in Hollywood. It’s also important for us as a community, to show the same level of support for non-romance Asian American films. I’m excited to see what new genres Asian creatives will conquer next, but I also think it’s safe to say, we’ve seen enough rom coms, at least for now.