(read on Medium)
My mom seldom drinks but she took this opportunity to order a margarita. She is 5 foot nothing and so she was quickly drunk. About 75% of the way through the movie, she exclaimed to nobody in particular, “UGH. This is so boooring!” I loved this because I agreed. And because I felt like this gave me permission to hate on this film.
Michelle Yeoh is clearly the star of the show. I watched “The Devil Wears Prada” for the first time yesterday and I’m comfortable calling her the Asian Meryl Streep. People that skillful can make lesser talents shrink, but Constance Wu did quite well. Henry Golding was perfectly flat and flawless, just like his character. Nearly every other Asian man was a diverse case study in being shitty — a veritable cabal of douchebags, degenerates, and perverts. Thanks, y’all. Awkwafina played herself and did fine. If Ken Jeong is trying to convince me he’s one-note and annoying, it’s finally working.
Who is this film for? It’s not for me, a Beijing-born Chinese entrepreneur who grew up in America. It’s not for my mom, a self-made first generation immigrant, who went from working at a Chinese buffet to a master’s degree. My 13-year-old brother thought it was alright. Perhaps it’s for Singaporeans? Or mainland Chinese, or Taiwanese/HKers? Maybe — but I suspect it’s really for romance drama lovers of any background, the usual suspects who can’t wait to embrace performative wokeness, and Asian-Americans so desperate to remain proximal to whiteness and privilege that they’ll lap up finger-dipping water like it’s La Croix. A billion Chinese people in the diaspora and perhaps a hundredth of a hundredth of a percentage point live like this. The older female characters mostly behaved believably, but everybody else was a caricature — a simulacra of Asian-ness, lacking any of the subtlety or nuance that makes Asian people — my people — so wonderful. 5,000 years and it still distills down to filial piety, tiger moms, and dumplings.
My mom ran into a friend of hers in the lobby and she disliked the film too. Of course they traded WeChat info in the parking lot so that their sons could mingle (including me… I’m supposed to give career advice next week.) And there was some commentary and critique on the film and how it compares to their lived experiences. My mom and I had more good talk in the car.
For many years people have been telling me what I ought to like and dislike and, when it intersects with racial identity politics, shaming me for preferences on one thing or another. My favorite is when non-Asian people try to tell me how I ought to feel about Asian-American issues. Okay, William Ford. Tell me more about how intersectionality works. If that’s your instinct, you can shame me all you want for not falling in line, but good luck shaming my mom. Tell her she’s a bad Asian-American for disliking this film, and she can tell you about how she used to sew her own shoes growing up.
My family and I watched it to grow the buying clout of the Asian demographic and to have a bonding cultural experience a la “Black Panther”. Alas, this film was far more hollow than the already simplistic Marvel formula. It’s funny that the movie opens how it does, because I feel exactly how Michelle Yeoh does in “1995” — disregarded and humiliated by the gatekeepers until money got me access. Yes, I got through the door, but that scummy feeling that follows me in isn’t just the mud on my boots. Still, they can grab my cash this go-around if this means we get another shot at doing it better next time.
Last thoughts: Jing Lusi's epic "WOT" was great. The mahjong scene was the only emotionally impactful scene in the film: I felt like it was exploited to callback game theory, but it was poignant enough. I though it was a bit odd that of the entire Coldplay catalogue they chose to play a Chinese cover of "Yellow", but apparently there's background for that and the lyrics do not translate literally as the cover contains little to no mention of yellowness. Oh, and this film convinced me to cut my hair, work out and get a tailored suit, and make $100 billion dollars.
I rate this film a 4/10.