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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

'Crazy Rich Asians' hoopla elicits mixed feelings in Asia

'There's this whole notion of the movie being a triumph for representation, which is very problematic. The only Indians and Malays you see are servants,' said Singaporean journalist Nicholas Yong

Constance Wu in a scene from 'Crazy Rich Asians.' Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP
Constance Wu in a scene from 'Crazy Rich Asians.' Warner Bros. Entertainment via AP

The craze for Crazy Rich Asians is hitting Asia, with a premiere in Singapore followed by openings in several neighbouring countries later this week.

Much of the movie was set in this wealthy city-state. The red carpet premiere Tuesday night for the over-the-top romantic comedy was expected to draw an enthusiastic crowd after its box-office bonanza in the US

Directed by John M Chu, the film was adapted from Singaporean author Kevin Kwan's best-selling novel of the same name. It follows Chinese-American Rachel Chu as she travels with her boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore to meet his family and discovers they are ultra-wealthy.

The movie is drawing a mixed reaction. Admirers of the film say that as the first majority Asian-cast film in over two decades to be released by a major Hollywood studio it upends Hollywood's usual stereotypes of Asian characters. Critics say it misses a chance to showcase the city's ethnic diversity.

The $30 million (Dh110m) Warner Bros film has grossed more than $35 million (Dh128m) since its Aug 15 world debut in Los Angeles and came out tops with its release in US theaters over the weekend.

That surpassed expectations, said Fiona Xie, who plays the starlet Kitty Pong as one of 12 Singapore-based members of its cast. It's "liberating to just be part of a powerful positive movement," she told The Associated Press.

"As an Asian actor, I think it's great, and a step in the right direction," Nat Ho, who plays a small role in the film, told The AP.

The film has drawn criticism for its inaccurate portrayal of Singapore's ethnic diversity, with some calling it a misrepresentation of the country's minority races. Even though a majority of its residents are Chinese, a quarter of its population are Malay, Indian, or Eurasians, with many migrant workers from surrounding countries like Bangladesh or the Philippines.

"There's this whole notion of the movie being a triumph for representation, which is very problematic. The only Indians and Malays you see are servants," said Nicholas Yong, a Singaporean journalist and author who saw the movie before its Singapore premiere.

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Even though its glamorous depiction of Singapore could give its tourism a boost, it was not entirely welcomed.

"To us, Crazy Rich should not just be about the opulence and luxury showcased in the film, but Singapore's actual richness in terms of our diversity," said Singapore Tourism Board's spokesperson Lynette Pang.

While the country has enjoyed economic progress, the wealth gap in the city is widening, and the super rich with their extravagant lifestyle are a tiny, privileged minority.

Writing in the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong, which has more than its share of tycoons and elite wealthy families, commentator Alex Lo said he enjoyed the film with "guilty pleasure."

"But amusement aside, it strikes me the whole purpose of the film exercise is to glamorise and legitimise the super-rich in Asia, many of whom are ethnic Chinese in real life," he said.

"Should we, as the audience and hoi polloi, be tantalised and awed by the display of mega wealth, which has been described, by most accounts, as accurate. Or should we rather be repelled?"

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