And now for something completely different. It’s been over two decades since there has been a film about Asians featuring just Asians (do you remember the Joy Luck Club?). If you were pining for such a film, well your long nightmare is over. And the movie is quite good. What it is not is a rom-com, in the traditional sense. There are a few funny scenes, but it’s far more romance than comedy to be sure, for the full two hours of the film. The story is about a romance between the scion of an uber-rich Singapore family heir, Nick Young, and his New York professor girl friend, Rachel Chu.
But if you really want to get inside the cultural vibe of this Cinderella and Prince Charming sort of film, you need to understand something about honor and shame cultures, which Oriental cultures are still today, and Biblical cultures were in antiquity. In an honor and shame culture, obtaining honor for your family or clan is of utmost importance, and avoiding shame is the distaff side of the same notion. It is more important than love, more important even than life, in many cases. And this plays out in this particular movie because Nick Young is in danger of shaming his family by picking the wrong girl for a wife— a non-native Asian with no money.
The other major thing to understand about the film is of course greed. Greed as a virtue, if you’ve got it flaunt it. And there is no scene that better displays the problem with this than the scene where Nick’s Mom is at a Bible study with other wealthy women in an opulent setting, and they see nothing at all incongruous with living lives of excess and being Christians. Yet they want their sons to marry ‘good Christian girls’. Indeed, later in the movie we learn they are Methodists and there is the line— ‘they spent 40 million on this wedding, which is so not Methodist. 20 million tops is our limit!!’ Yikes!!! John Wesley is rolling over in his grave.
This movie is refreshing in that it gives people a picture of Asian life at it’s highest social levels, it isn’t just a retreading of older films and ideas, and it turns out the quote from Napoleon at the beginning of the film about don’t wake the sleep giant China or they will take over the world is turning out to be prophetic in some regards. Thank goodness he didn’t also come up with the slogan ‘let’s make Asia great again’, but this film certainly will show many Westerners that Asia is on the rise.