Too rich for the censor’s taste?

Movie about ethnic Chinese tycoons not shown in China


Constance Wu: stars in lead role in Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians was the standout success at North American cinemas over the weekend. Driven by strong reviews and pent-up demand for a Hollywood hit led by Asian actors, it earned $25.2 million in its opening two days. The New York Times proclaimed it a “watershed moment” while others described the film’s success as proof that “diversity matters”.

The romantic comedy about Nick Young, a man in possession of a large fortune (played by Henry Golding) looking for a wife (Constance Wu) should appeal to Chinese audiences – at least on paper. Not only does it have a cast of ethnically Chinese actors, there are plenty of nods to Chinese culture throughout the movie.

Conversely, the film hasn’t even secured a release date in China, although more than 30 other countries are set to show it in the coming weeks.

“We’re all praying to the China gods right now,” John Penotti, one of its producers, told Hollywood Reporter. “From my colleagues in Beijing, it looks like we’re in strong consideration.”

The film – whose central female character is Chinese-American – may resonate less in China than the US. “The cultural significance would not be as important as it is in the United States,” Li Haisong at China Film Insider told Fortune magazine. “In China, they are used to seeing television shows full of Chinese faces. Here in the US it’s more about diversity and representation. That wouldn’t be the biggest selling point [in China].”

“I’d be concerned that the humour might not translate well either,” Jonathan Papish, a film sector analyst, added. “Crazy Rich Asians isn’t something that screams success in China.”

There are also worries that the country’s censors might not be as impressed with the overt displays of wealth and extravagance in the film. In the first scene, for instance, Young’s mother (Michelle Yeoh) buys a swanky hotel in London after being denied a room by a racist hotelier. The film’s trailer also showcases scenes packed with luxury cars and opulent parties. Even though the story mostly takes place in Singapore, the flaunting of wealth by Chinese faces might highlight wealth disparity at home in China, some commentators have suggested, which would be at odds with President Xi Jinping’s push for a “harmonious society”.

Still, the producers of Crazy Rich Asians are optimistic about a China release. “It’s a little hard to parse the bodies looking at the film and from what lens they’re viewing it,” Penotti admitted. “But we have a pretty good indication that the audiences there would be interested in it, with a lot of positive social media audience interaction in China. It would be terrific for the film, the filmmakers and the cast. Right now, we’re just reading tea leaves.”

If it does make it onto Chinese screens, the franchise has the material for a more mainland-focused sequel. Crazy Rich Asians is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan who also authored the follow-up China Rich Girlfriend.

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