I watched the movie “Crazy Rich Asians” in the afternoon of its opening day. As the first movie in a quarter century with an all Asian cast breaking through the bamboo ceiling of Hollywood representation, it lived up to the hype. It was a surreal and awesome experience to see Asians in an American movie portrayed as real people for once, people who can be funny, witty, mean, kind, and yes, sexy too, without the exoticizing orientalist tropes that characterized the “Joy Luck Club,” a movie that is often held as a comparison, but thankfully, to which it had little resemblance. The movie represented Asia in a way that I have known it. A place of great modernity and extravagant wealth, full of highly intelligent, confident and powerful people, so far from the almost ridiculous depictions of Asia as an overgrown and chaotic Chinatown that recur incessantly in Hollywood, undoubtedly from the imaginations of screenwriters who are obviously deeply ignorant of the place.
However, while the movie was definitely a refreshing trendsetter and proof that, along with “Black Panther,” movies with minority-led casts can break box office records, the argument that the movie symbolizes a newly dominant Asia falls short. As a student of history who has actually read the original book, it is quite clear that even though the characters in the book are wealthy and powerful, the social parameters that the movie dictates are more indicative of the immense historical dominance of the West than of the East.