By Yvonne Lim Wilson
“Crazy Rich Asians” opened Wednesday, Aug. 15 and the film has exceeded industry expectations bringing in $34 million over the five-day opening beyond the expected $25 million projection. Part of that enthusiasm has been fueled by the Asian American community buying out showings during opening weekend with the #GoldOpen movement.
The Austin Asian American Film Festival, with co-presenting sponsors Warner Bros., and Alamo Drafthouse, presented the Crazy Rich Asians VIP Soiree and Night Market on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Long Center. The VIP Soiree fundraiser sold out and more than 2,000 attended the free, family-friendly night market event.
“It’s a great event that’s bring attention to a very large minority population. These types of events are a wonderful way to bring attention and highlight culture,” said attendee Binh Pham.
Chef Christine Ha (MasterChef winner) created a special VIP Soiree menu as a tribute to Singaporean cuisine with Chicken Rice, Beef Curry Puff, Sambal Chile Crab Crostini, White Carrot Cake, and Kaya Toast and was also present signing copies of her book, “Recipes from My Home Kitchen.”
“It’s good to show my support. Asian and Asian American voices have a voice as well. We’re not all doctors and lawyers,” Ha said.
“Crazy RIch Asians” actors Ronny Chieng and Chris Pang, as well as screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli, participated in a panel discussion moderated by actor and community activist Minji Chang of Kollaboration, and met with attendees afterwards.
“It’s my first time in Austin. I’ve loving it so far. I love the feeling on Austin. You feel instantly at home,” Pang said.
The night market provided a rich experience including various Asian foods and drinks, live music by DJ KidStylez, voter registration, community booths and copies of “Crazy Rich Asian” were on sale by Kinokuniya, Austin’s newest Japanese bookstore.
Michael and Nancy Chiu with their daughter Lauren enjoyed the outdoor setting of the night market, saying that they mainly came for the family friendly event.
“This is great. We were looking forward to the movie,” Nancy said.
The variety of experiences also showcased the diverse contributions of Asian Americans.
“There aren’t a lot of Asian female artists. It breaks the stereotype,” said Houston artist Anna Vy @annaveewins who created a mural on-site inspired by Constance
Designer and Project Runway winner Chloe Dao and celebrity hair and makeup artist Tiffany Lee of Studio Tilee, also showcased their works. Fashion plays an important role in the film, something Dao finds particularly exciting, especially with the booming luxury market in Asia.
“The film is all about high fashion. It’s about the crazy, rich Asians who can afford all the top designers. It shows how diverse we are as Asians,” said Dao, who created a special gown for the event. “I was inspired by the movie to make this dress. It’s sleek and modern with Asian influence in the Mandarin collar. I wanted something elegant, sexy and modern.”
Overwhelmingly, the general sentiment of the evening was that it was time to see Asian Americans better represented.
“I think it’s great they’re showing us as people. You never see Asian men and Asian women in a love story. They see us as [a stereotype] and that’s insulting,” said Austin-based actor Roger Chan.
In addition to the stereotypical professions, there’s also the “tiger mom” stereotype, a point discussed during the panel discussion.
“Michelle Yeoh only accepted the role until she made the character was well-rounded and balanced [working with the screenwriters]. I’m looking forward to seeing it,” said attendee Marina Bhargava.
AAAFF committee member Hanna Huang said she enjoyed reading the book and is looking forward to seeing a lighthearted story on screen.
“The film is really wonderful in what it represents. It’s one of the first books, a bestseller, that I’ve read that is a story about Asian Americans being successful and doesn’t focus on a painful journey. It was fun to read,” Huang said.
Another point of interest in the story was the family dynamic, exploring the difference between being Asian and Asian American. The character of Rachel Chu, played by Constance Wu, is an Asian American who comes to understand the differences between Asian and Asian American cultures and identities through her meeting boyfriend Nicholas Young’s crazy, rich family in Singapore.
“It’s about understanding those nuances. She experiences culture shock when she goes to Asia, where you look like everyone else, but you’re not from here,” Huang said.
With the AAAFF’s event’s success as the largest activation event for the film in the country, Texas represents an important frontier in the Asian American community.
“Austin actually has a large percentage of Asian Americans compared to the rest of state, with Asian Americans making up about eight percent of the population in Austin, compared to about five or six percent in Dallas in Houston,” Huang said. “The focus on Asian Americans is East and West coasts and to be somewhere in the middle is so powerful.”
AAAFF board member Wajiha Rizvi was also excited to showcase Austin on the national stage.
“This is a really great thing for the festival,” Rizvi said. “This is a great opportunity to scale up to show Austin can be a bastion for media and arts.”
Attendee Ying McGuire said she was proud of the younger generation taking on representation and putting this event together to celebrate the film.
“I’m so proud of these millennials … breaking the traditional model of Asian Americans as engineer, doctor, and breaking into art and fashion, a mainstream film, which is absolutely amazing. I’m so proud,” she said.