Seen on screen

On Friday, I indulged in two movies, one on the big screen, and one on my iPad mini. Both filled my heart with joy, and made me cry several times, because of the stories themselves, and also because of what these stories mean. I haven’t stopped thinking about them all weekend, and I can’t wait to watch them again.

Based on the novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians is part rom-com, part fish-out-of-water story, part family drama, and part extravagant party.

It’s also the first Hollywood production to feature an all-Asian cast since 1993’s Joy Luck Club. (Which is one of my all-time favorite movies, by the way.)

When the movie started, I was overcome with emotion. Seeing all those Asian faces — faces like my aunts, my cousins, my friends, their parents — and for them to be the stars? For them to be the focus of a lighthearted contemporary story, as opposed to something historical or niche? It was just so…

It was everything.

Crazy Rich Asians is not perfect, but it’s genuinely enjoyable. Henry Golding is a gem, and Michelle Yeoh is great as ever. The last third of the movie is especially strong, which is significant, because endings are hard. (The wedding reception! The mahjong scene! The plane scene!)

The more I look back on the movie, the more I appreciate both the big things (romantic love vs. family love; mother-child relationships; self-sacrifice) and the little things (Araminta with glasses and no make-up at the night market; Rachel and Peik Lin going barefoot through the Goh family mansion; everyone making dumplings together and sharing family stories in a mix of English and Chinese).

To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before, now streaming on Netflix, is also based on a novel, and features a half-Korean main character. The whole cast is charming, but especially Noah Centineo (Peter, one of the love interests) and Anna Cathcart (Kitty, the younger sister). To be honest, I was just expecting this to be a bit of fluffy fun, and it was, but it was also much more.

This piece does a great job explaining how TATBILB manages to succeed within its genre, while also setting itself apart:

The story plays out with familiar beats and set pieces, bits I remembered from beloved predecessors like “A Walk to Remember,” “She’s All That” and “10 Things I Hate About You,” movies designed to make you remember, viscerally, the terrifying thrill of first love.

But damn, does “To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before” stick just about every landing, in part by reshaping misogynistic and shallow tropes of the genre in ways that make it feel more honest and yet also more optimistic.

Specifically: The dad is not stodgy and oblivious; When couples break up, they don’t instantly hate each other, because that’s not how first love usually works; And maybe most importantly, the heroine doesn’t require a sexy makeover in order for the hot guy to fall for her.

[It’s] a gentle, witty, nuanced movie about family, grief and growing up, wrapped around a love story that’s both believably bumbling and an irresistible fantasy.

Also: That hot tub scene.

My daughter IB is too young to watch these movies with me at the moment, but I hope when she’s old enough, she’ll want to. Because if seeing them healed pieces of my own 30-something-year-old heart, then I can only imagine what they might mean to her growing up. Maybe she’ll watch them dozens of times, like I did with Mulan and Joy Luck Club. Or maybe, if we’re lucky, she won’t have to, because there will be so many stories with good Asian representation that these won’t stand out like they do now.

I would like to be a part of that. Like many writers of color, my earliest work defaulted to whiteness, but as I’ve matured, all my best writing has reflected my mixed race identity, in one way or another.

Sometimes I wonder whether the world really needs my stories or not. I ask myself, What can I add? Why does anything I say matter?

This weekend, Crazy Rich Asians and To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before reminded me that you don’t have to change the world, or be perfect, to make a difference.


6 responses to “Seen on screen”

  1. elissa Avatar

    I recently watched both of these movies too and had the same reaction. It was so nice seeing… Asian men not as ninjas or programmers, but as people (especially when the filmmakers objectified Nick.. I appreciated that since Asian guys are always seen as “sexless.”). Asian women not as exotic creatures or trophy wives, but as nuanced individuals.

    I watched TATBILB last night and really enjoyed it! It’s been a while since I read the books (well, the first 2.. still haven’t read the third) but it seemed to follow the events of the book pretty well. I loved the actress who played Kitty.

    1. Kristan Avatar

      “Asian men not as ninjas or programmers, but as people … Asian women not as exotic creatures or trophy wives, but as nuanced individuals” — YES!

      And yes to objectifying Nick (Henry Golding) too, lol. Like, how has the world not realized how many hot Asian guys there are?

      Kitty kind of stole the show. I would love a spinoff series featuring her in her YA years. (Psst, Jenny Han, make this happen!)

  2. T.S. Bazelli Avatar

    All those same feels. I bawled just watching the trailer to CRA because I’d never seen so many beautiful Asians on screen together before. It just hit me hard. I still haven’t watched it yet, but I better not wear mascara when i do >.< And TATBILB was just so charming. I know my teen self would have gobbled that up and watched it on repeat forever.

    1. Kristan Avatar

      Honestly, I didn’t expect CRA to affect me so much, but the more I looked into it — reading about the production, and how much care Kevin Kwan and Jon M. Chu took with everything, and then watching interview clips with the cast, hearing their very passionate and thoughtful remarks — the more my heart started to crack open with hope and connection. I’m so so so so so glad it didn’t suck! Lol.

  3. Browsing the Atlas Avatar

    Thanks for the reco’s. I might have missed All the Boys otherwise. :)

    1. Kristan Avatar

      Hope you enjoy(ed) it! And btw, haha, I just caught up on all your Spain posts. Loved them!