A thin disc of dough rests on a delicate hand as the other hand dips into a bucket of water. The fingers trace around the circle, and then move to a spoon to scoop up filling. Then it’s fold and pinch until a dumpling forms in the palm of the hand.
This could either be a scene from the blockbuster “Crazy Rich Asians” or a memory from my childhood.
“Crazy Rich Asians,” though it has garnered praise for its all-Asian cast, has received criticism for its portrayal of Singapore and all its opulence.
So why do I relate to “Crazy Rich Asians” so much? Why does it affect me, a small Asian dude from San Francisco who has never gone to Singapore?
Let me explain.
Eleven-year-old Ryan didn’t really get out much. He liked watching YouTube — more specifically, he loved watching Wong Fu Productions. He loved watching their depictions of love and comedy swirling through the streets of Los Angeles: everything from the story of a guy who doesn’t get the girl to the one where the couple meets through a suitcase mix-up.
Most of all, he loved that they were all Asian.
Growing up, I interacted frequently with three types of Asian people: kids my age, older people, and people my parents’ age. So by the time I was in middle school, I got to thinking — how the hell do Asian people just out of college live their lives? Are they like the white people I see in “Friends”? Or do they become engineers and doctors and work for the rest of their lives? (The answer, Ryan, is yes, but I didn’t know that).
The problem is the lack of depiction of Asian people living their lives in media. You see old Asian people doing martial arts or owning Chinese restaurants. But you never see the daily lives of millennial Asians.
Then came “Crazy Rich Asians,” the movie that showed Asians making dumplings in a dining room — just like my family does. The movie that showed characters switching between Mandarin and English while talking, inserting Chinese expressions into speech naturally. I saw myself (OK, maybe an upgraded version of myself) in Henry Golding when he was hanging out at the night market with his friends.
The movie isn’t just important for me. It should be important for everyone. The last Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast was “The Joy Luck Club,” adapted 25 years ago from the book by Amy Tan. “Joy Luck Club” ended with a domestic gross of almost $33 million. “Crazy Rich Asians” currently has a domestic gross of $117 million and it’s not over.
Now out is the Asian-American film “Searching,” starring John Cho, which has already topped $8 million in its opening weekend. For the longest time, Asians have been relegated to side characters in movies and TV shows. We’re past that now, and I couldn’t be happier for all the little Ryans out there.