For those unfamiliar with Kevin Kwan’s book, a sharp-witted analysis of bourgeois culture, Singapore-style—he tells the (fictional) story of an American-born Chinese woman, who unknowingly falls in love with Singapore’s richest bachelor, and hilariously lampoons the absurdities of lifestyles marked by extreme Singaporean wealth.
Now made into a film with a near entirely Asian cast, Crazy Rich Asianswill provide a unique opportunity to provide those who dismiss Singapore as a clean-skin and conservative culture, with a window into its intricacies and often flamboyant personalities.
While I cannot claim to be a: Asian, b: Singaporean, or c: any form of cultural expert—nevertheless, as someone who has lived in Singapore, is married to a Chinese-Singaporean (ACS boy), and does possess an Honours degree in Cultural Studies (for whatever that’s worth), I was particularly excited to see a culture that I both adore and has proven challenging for me as an outsider to understand, portrayed in all its nuanced glory on the big screen, from a voice that holds a legitimate claim as an insider. And, thankfully, it didn’t disappoint.
The Austen-esque antics of the Singaporean upper class are beautifully mixed with the cultural complexities of family and race politics and expectations around gender roles. This is a commentary about class, mainly, as wealth is abundant in Singapore, and as demonstrated here by the Goh family, having it is still a far cry from having a claim to having prestige.
So, assuming it’s given the chance it deserves by western audiences, how will this impact Singapore’s brand?
Is this the dawning of a post-LKY era?
Singapore, it seems, has been going through a constant cycle of rebranding since the 1960s, when Lee Kuan Yew changed the island nation’s fortune through tough politics and strong economic policy.
His generation is now reaching their time as the nation’s elders, if they’re not there already; and rising up in their turn is a flashier, #richkidsofSingapore generation, who loudly wear their extreme wealth and are more open to and embracing of western ideas.
There’s been a noticeable shift.
Today, Singapore is littered with small bars, embraces a more flashy sense of wealth (quite like America) and seeks to be recognised as a sophisticated, modern, instagrammable city. It now has a thriving arts culture, invests heavily in innovative areas, such as medical research, and has even drawn some of the advertising industry away from Hong Kong.
With the arrival of Marina Sands, came the dawning of a new Singapore. The casino, the high flyers, the very high cocktail bars on the 42ndfloor. Marina Sands features in the film, along with the Gardens by the Bay, Chjmes, The Raffles and Newton Circus. It’s a veritable postcard of Singapore’s most snapped landmarks and hotspots. It’s an advertisement of the new Singapore—one that’s modern, sexy and ready to show the world.
One of the key markers of a brand that’s confident and established, is the ability to self-deprecate. Whether the old Singapore is ready or not, Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asiansis going to show the world that this urban oasis has found its confidence and its voice, and is now ready to show the world how funny, sexy and self-deprecating it can be.
Crazy Rich Asians releases in Australia on August 30—check it out!