Still from “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Culture

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ opens in China to an offended audience

Dec 03, 2018

The romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians might have been a box-office hit in the United States, but in mainland China, it was a big flop when it opened this weekend.

From Friday to Sunday, the movie made barely 8 million yuan ($1.2 million), according to box-office tracker Ent Group, putting it in a dismal eighth place behind other Hollywood films like Venom and Ralph Breaks the Internet.

“Crazy Rich Asians” opened in mainland China in eighth place.
“Crazy Rich Asians” opened in mainland China in eighth place. / Photo: Warner Bros

And while Crazy Rich Asians, based off Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, has been hailed in Hollywood as a breakthrough for its full cast of Asian descent, many Chinese viewers have derided it for reinforcing stereotypes about Chinese people.

The film scored a middling 6.2 out of 10 on the Chinese film rating site Douban. Commentators likened Crazy Rich Asians to General Tso’s chicken, a dish that Americans associate with Chinese food but has little to do with China.

Commentators likened “Crazy Rich Asians” to General Tso’s chicken, a dish that Americans associate with Chinese food but has little to do with China.

“It has a lot of elements of Chinese culture,” one commentator wrote on Douban on Sunday. “They’re just elements that Americans think of as Chinese culture. It’s not the everyday reality of Chinese people.

“It doesn’t show the complexity of Chinese culture and makes people think all Chinese are like that.”

“It’s a white story told with Asian faces,” a commentator wrote on Douban.
“It’s a white story told with Asian faces,” a commentator wrote on Douban.

“It’s a white story told with Asian faces,” another commentator wrote on Douban, a stark contrast to Asian-Americans who see the film as representing their story. 

(Read more: The not-so-Chinese origins of General Tso’s chicken)

Now, distributors are scrambling to cut the number of screenings in the country.

Most analysts predicted that Crazy Rich Asians would not play well in China, where a wealth of domestic rom-coms means the film’s promise of greater Asian representation is moot. Critics called the film’s Cinderella story clichéd and found Michelle Yeoh’s overbearing matriarch character stale.

Critics called the Cinderella story in “Crazy Rich Asians” clichéd.
Critics called the Cinderella story in “Crazy Rich Asians” clichéd. / Photo: Warner Bros

Additionally, some interpreted the film’s ending as a slight against traditional Chinese notions about family.

“These stories are played to death in Chinese TV dramas,” one commentator wrote on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter. “Who would go to the movies to see them?”

(Read more: Meet the “Rihanna of China” who debuted in Crazy Rich Asians)

The delay in the film’s mainland release is another factor in its lackluster box office sales.

The release came more than three months after its August debut in North America, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Taiwan, all markets with big Chinese audiences.

“Crazy Rich Asians” was enthusiastically received when it opened in North America in August.
“Crazy Rich Asians” was enthusiastically received when it opened in North America in August. / Photo: AP

There was speculation that Crazy Rich Asians would not get a mainland premiere because its portrayal of ostentatiously wealthy ethnic Chinese could have irked government censors trying to crack down on luxurious lifestyles and uphold socialist values.

There was speculation that the portrayal of ostentatious wealth in “Crazy Rich Asians” would draw the ire of Chinese censors.
There was speculation that the portrayal of ostentatious wealth in “Crazy Rich Asians” would draw the ire of Chinese censors. / Photo: Warner Bros

In the end, all of that might not matter. Crazy Rich Asians grossed more than $237 million worldwide, making it the highest-grossing romantic comedy in a decade.

(Read more: I was in tears after watching Crazy Rich Asians)

A sequel, based on the second book in Kwan’s trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend, has already been green-lit.

Much of the story is set in Shanghai, where producers hope they will be able to shoot the film.

Securing a release date for Crazy Rich Asians in China was seen as a crucial step toward a possible co-production for the sequel.

Adapted from an original article first published in the South China Morning Post.