“A single tree does not make a forest; a single string cannot make music.” - old Chinese proverb
There is little left to contribute to the dialogue around Crazy Rich Asians that hasn’t already been said. The coverage and discourse has been more than the community could ever ask for. It’s a movement. It’s a throwback to the RomComs of yesteryear. And most notably, it’s a symbol of a changing tide in representation in media. That being said, we’ve been getting questions from both our fans and team about how and why we’re supporting the movie so openly. A friend said, “It’s about Asian pride, right?”
We’re in the food business, so we try not to overreach and stay in our lane. In our world, we had amazing trailblazers Iike Eddie Huang, David Chang, and Roy Choi pave the way for our current American gastronomic rennaissance. Even our success with Boba Guys or Sunday at the Museum is built on the backs of the generation before us. Before we introduced our chapter of American-style boba, our forefathers (and mothers) did it with the gua bao, ramen, and kalbi tacos. Boba Guys has always been a pipe dream, so to change an entire industry— much less be writing a whole book about it— is a privilege. We’ve always said the food world has one of the better platforms for representation— food, at its core, is democratic. Channelling my best Bourdain, “There is nothing more political than food.” Our commentary is about culture.
I remember watching Crazy Rich Asians for the first time on the big screen earlier this year. I was sitting among peers and the cast, wondering, “How the f*ck did we get here?” As soon as the title card appeared, I knew something special was in the air. I could hear it in the cheers. I picked up the chuckles after nuanced musical references. And I felt it during the food porn scenes. Brother Jon M. Chu, the cast, and the bold team at Warner Bros hit a home run.
It wasn’t that we never felt it during years of Jackie Chan, Margaret Cho, Kelly Hu, Harold & Kumar, Crouching Tiger, and uh... Memoirs of a— never mind. Even with Master of None and The Big Sick, I still felt something was missing. That’s not a knock on any of the strides made thus far— unlike in food or in fashion, the representation hasn’t permeated culture to the same degree. And I know this is heading toward a conversation about White Worship or Columbus’ing, but I am just speaking to Bin and my experience— as Asian American kids growing up in Texas and New Jersey, I didn’t feel fully represented. There were some moments, but it was fleeting. I didn’t feel whole. (You don’t ever feel whole when you wonder when it will end.)
I think it’s like when someone went to my family’s old restaurant in New Jersey and ordered chicken chow mein. I mean, you come to Hunan Palace, the pinnacle of Chinese cuisine in Woodbridge, New Jersey and all you order is chicken chow mein?! Here’s the issue: it’s a two-sided problem as my business school professors would say. On the demand side, the residents of our small town didn’t understand terms like duck sauce or bok choy (remember, this is the late 80s), so they stuck to what they knew. And my parents, immigrants from China and Taiwan, only translated and offered what they knew how to make. Neither side could fully understand each other and there wasn’t a product that was equally accessible and available at the same time. The ground-breaking, culinary achievements of General Tso’s chicken had not yet reached Yan Can Cook heights yet. Note: did Martin Yan come before or after General Tso? It’s all hazy but that’s the point.
I’m going to get some internet flack for this, but stick with me— Crazy Rich Asians is like a fully-realized, whole Asian food concept. It’s not chicken chow mein. It hits our cultural core but is also enveloped in pretty packaging. It isn’t a Panda Express. (Sorry. Though, I love my Orange Chicken and Cheese Rangoons.) It makes us feel whole. It’s probably why the community is rallying around it. It’s like when McDonald’s goes overseas and you eat a burger, milkshake, and fries in front of Jing’an Temple in Shanghai. It’s a solid cross-section of American culture. Sure, McDonald’s has some local items like Japanese rice cheese balls or Haupia pie in Hawaii, but it’s essentially a fully-baked cultural concept inside another culture. Like a Tur-Duck-En of culture. That’s Crazy Rich Asians.
We do these movie nights at Boba Guys where we buy out theaters for our team to celebrate our hard work. I remember two recent movies in particular that stood out, Coco and Black Panther. It’s true that us in the organizing community have read and admired the passion about Black Panther. I can’t speak for each ethnic population, but I know it meant something visceral to some members of our team. I could see it in their eyes or hear it in their tears. As Awkwafina put it, “... that is the power of representation.”
Over the past few months, we’ve helped organize 5+ screenings across the country. I myself have seen the movie four times and have cried every single time. It’s that good. I rank it up there with two other classics: Serendipity and You’ve Got Mail. You may think RomComs are sappy or dated, but given our society’s tone at the moment, we all could use an injection of optimism. Or just watch CRA for a front row seat to an emerging cultural war between US and China— a topic which we’ll surely cover in our book. ;)
Lastly, as I wrote in this post about AAPI Heritage Month, “As a history buff, I often see how one group’s rise to power often comes at another’s expense... both realized and unrealized.” This isn’t about power or pride or a tug-of-war between two cultures. And this post isn’t just for the underrepresented Asians in media.
Today, it is Crazy Rich Asians, because that’s a visible domain and serves as a proxy for culture. If your CRA isn’t your story today, there will be one for you tomorrow. Later, it will be in the domain of education and schools, in which another segment of the population is underrepresented. Then maybe politics. And after that, it will be members of another marginalized group— anyone that never felt treated as a “whole.” That is an idea that goes beyond being Asian or American. It’s universal.
If you aren’t Asian, I invite you to join us on a path to bridging cultures. Yes, this movie is a chance in which we share our culture in the wrapping of a gorgeous RomCom. We hope we are good hosts as you venture into our world. In return, we hope you invite us to your iconic films, tastings, and events and maybe we can learn from each other. Whether it’s rich and poor, urban and rural, or techies and hipsters, we know the first step toward understanding others is to travel within another culture.
Thank you all for the love and support that allows us to continue pushing toward progress.
Andrew & Bin
p.s. Again, major kudos to Warner Bros, Jonathan M. Chu, and fellow publishing peer Kevin Kwan (go Random House!) for believing in telling whole, rich stories across cultures. You guys deserve all the credit for bringing this project to life.