Editor’s Note: Jeff Yang is a frequent contributor to CNN Opinion, a featured writer for Quartz and other publications, and the co-host of the podcast “They Call Us Bruce.” He co-wrote Jackie Chan’s best-selling autobiography, “I Am Jackie Chan,” and is the editor of three graphic novels: “Secret Identities,” “Shattered” and the forthcoming “New Frontiers.” The opinions expressed here are his own. View more opinion articles on CNN.
You’ve probably already read about how “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first major studio release to feature an all-Asian cast in 25 years – since The Joy Luck Club accomplished that feat in 1993.
And yes, this movie is a singularly special and important event for those of us in the Asian-American community, who are finally beginning to sense a change in an industry that has, over the past quarter century, seemed afraid of putting more than one of us onscreen at once for fear of somehow freaking out or turning off non-Asian viewers.
(Don’t look now, but “Crazy Rich Asians” serves up whole screens of Asians at a time, and none of them die, all of them speak English and – wonder of wonders – every character looks and acts extremely different, so you won’t have an issue telling them apart.)
But as much of an event as this is for us, the truth is that anyone – Asian or not – should see the movie. It achieves what few films in recent memory have accomplished. It reminds us that the ultra-wealthy generally don’t live up to the sales pitch that they, Hollywood and the Republican Party have collectively tried to sell us.
This narrative consistently presents the staggeringly rich as different from – and better than – the huddled masses.
They’re heroes, who use their wealth to fight injustice – think Oliver Queen on The CW’s Arrow, the current Batman (who actually brags that his superpower is “being rich”), Iron Man’s Tony Stark, Tesla and Space X founder Elon Musk.
They’re “makers” who pull the rest of us “takers” up by our bootstraps, while creating jobs, disrupting industries and changing the world.
They’re captains of industry and leaders of society, bent on remaking this nation, whether we like it or not. If they feel like slicing California into three parts, building a giant wall on our southern border, appointing their own unqualified offspring to positions of power, well, it’s all part of a grand plan that, rest assured, will end with America Being Great Again.
It seems America hasn’t had this many tycoons at the pinnacle of our political system – elected, appointed or manipulating from the shadows – since the Gilded Age of the late 1800s. And a shocking number of Americans believe that this is actually a good thing for our country: If you’re wealthy, you must be a stable genius who’s earned and deserves it.
Consider “Crazy Rich Asians” something of a second opinion. Most of the rich folk in the movie are indeed “crazy,” if you redefine crazy as “petty, tawdry, narcissistic and devious.”
While the film’s women – economics professor and leading lady Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, proving she’s a big-screen star); her fast-talking confidante Peik-Lin Goh (Awkwafina in a breakout turn); and matriarchs Ah Ma and Eleanor (Lisa Lu and Michelle Yeoh, both terrific) – do exude smarts and competence, the male members and hangers-on of their extended clans are mostly framed as feckless wastrels, morally bankrupt parasites or goofy buffoons.
With the exception of leading man Nick Young (played by the dashing Henry Golding) and his soon-to-be-wed best friend, Colin Khoo (impressively hard-muscled Chris Pang), it’s hard to imagine any of these guys earning a massive fortune without being fortunate enough to have inherited it – or, say, running for political office and winning.
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They make for hilarious entertainment, but put in positions of actual power, you could imagine them quickly running things off the rails.
Here in America today, of course, we don’t have to imagine very hard.
We’ve already managed to blur the line between Hollywood “reality” and real reality, with just enough voters buying into Donald Trump’s mogul facade to put the television tycoon into office.
The catastrophic results have been more ridiculous than even Hollywood ever could have imagined. But with millions of marginalized people at risk, what began as black comedy has become a horror show.
That is another reason “Crazy Rich Asians” is worth a watch. Yes, it’s an object lesson, but it’s also excellent entertainment. And with the work we have to do in the months ahead, we all deserve a few hours of escapist respite before we get out into the trenches to resist, organize and vote this country back on track.