It’s a bit disheartening to see Crazy Rich Asians bomb at the Chinese box office, coming in 4th on the opening weekend. Theatres are already removing showings, and analysts expect a sub-$2m opening weekend.
It’s a bit surprising because many critics praised the storyline and plot of Crazy Rich Asians, and even without the “Asian” aspect of the movie, most thought it was a pretty solid movie.
As a Chinese immigrant, however, I understood why Chinese people didn’t think the same way.
In America, Crazy Rich Asians was not only a story, but a movement. A movie that was supposed to show that Asians could be cool, normal, funny, and even handsome. But China never needed convincing. China has always thought themselves to be a cool country, even when the rest of the world doesn’t.
So when a movie tries to convince audiences that Asians are “cool” it just doesn’t have the same impact in a country that shares vastly different values. For example, the general Chinese population still doesn’t believe in signs of wealth being acceptable, even though boat loads of fu er dai (children of rich government officials) are flashing Ferraris and Louis Vuitton on social media. It’s seen as a major detriment to society and the general public is turned off by the ridiculousness of the rich, while most of the country is still very poor.
According to Variety, one Chinese audience member said,
“So Chinese people in the eyes of Europeans and Americans are just about clans, extravagant snobbery, a blind sense of superiority, and stubbornly clinging to outdated rules and ideas?”
It would be as if a foreign country created a movie protagonist who eats McDonald’s every day and shoots up schools — stereotypes that Americans want to shed, not indulge in.
The alarming part about this, is that if movies like Crazy Rich Asians don’t do well in China there is less incentive for a studio to produce them. Luckily, in this particular instance the Asian American audience more than made up for the lack of Chinese interest.
For movies in America to make an impact in China, there needs to be a marketable Chinese actor or actress in one of the main roles. By comparison, the movie The Meg, with Li Bing Bing went onto gross nearly $600 million, with most of that overseas and $150 million in China alone. Skyscraper starring (mixed Asian American action star) Dwayne Johnson and a slew of Chinese stars grossed $100m in China, despite a shaky domestic debut in the States.
China doesn’t have the feelings about”whitewashing” that America has. Because every movie in China stars Chinese actors, having a White lead is actually refreshing for them and seen as a positive. If Hollywood can take that formula (mixing Asian leads with White leads) while removing the stereotypical Asian nerd roles in every movie, the added diversity will be great for Asian representation on the big screen. And if we can get a Chinese male lead in an American movie every now and then (hopefully starting with Shang-Chi) we can start to see us Asians shed our uncool image and become influential again on a global scale.
PS. check out some other Chinese opinions.
Written by Editorial Staff