For women Crazy Rich Asians is a modern day Cinderella story with all the characters of the original fairytale. Rachel Chu is the humble maid who falls in love with the handsome prince (Nick Young); having no idea he is the heir to the “royal family” of Singapore. His mother Eleanor plays the part of the wicked stepmother and conspires with the “Aunties” and Grandma (stepsisters) to keep Rachel and Nick apart.
Rachel has two fairy godmothers (Peik Lin and Oliver) who transform her humble “Gap” attire with an A-list designer gown in a Princess Diaries’ kind of make-over. Off she goes to the Cinderella Ball of the year (Colin and Araminta’s wedding) where at the stroke of midnight Rachel is stripped and laid bare by the wicked stepmother and forced to flee carrying her shoes. The prince does go after her and yes eventually they overcome and are reunited. The movie ends with the pair celebrating a Happily Ever After party fit for the entire kingdom.
The other mythic tale which men are more familiar with is the Hero Journey of Monomyth.1 In Crazy Rich Asians the hero and the heroine go on an epic adventure leaving the ordinary world of NYU academia and enter the special world of the crazy rich Chinese in Singapore. They have allies who help them through the tests and trials as their enemies oppose them on the descent to the inner most cave. It is in this ordeal where they both discover their true identities; illegitimate daughter of an immigrant and scion of an aristocratic family. Their road back to NYU is fraught with pitfalls but they are resurrected and return bringing with them the elixir of life (in this case an enormous engagement ring) and live happily ever after.
The Cinderella Story and the Hero Journey are archetypes whose motifs are entertaining and appealing and easily recognized in popular culture. There is a third tale imbedded in Crazy Rich Asians which predates all others and gives the movie it heart and true meaning. It is the story of The Two Contending Women.
In I Kings 3:16-28 two women appear before King Solomon seeking justice. Each woman had given birth to a son, one of whom died in the night. The woman whose baby died quietly got up and exchanged her dead child with the other woman’s live infant. In the morning the deed was exposed but both women were laying claim to the living child as their own.
Solomon commands that a sword be brought and the child divided in two:
“Then the woman whose child was the living one spoke to the King, for she was deeply stirred over her son and said ‘Oh my lord, give her the living child, and by no means kill him.’ But the other said ‘He shall be neither mine nor yours, divide him!’ (vs.26)
Solomon of course orders the child be given to the first woman knowing she is the true mother, for only the real mother would sacrificially give up her son so he might live.
Rachel and Eleanor are the two women contending for the one son. Eleanor is the mother content to divide her son to achieve what she wants; she did it to him as a child and she is determined to have him now even if it splits his heart between love of family and love of Rachel.
Rachel, like her own mother, is the true mother in the biblical story. She willingly gives up Nick and refuses his proposal knowing that if he married her without his family’s blessing he would always be a man torn in two.
The movie concludes with the “low class, illegitimate, immigrant” Rachel revealing to the “aristocratic, proud, pure Chinese” Eleanor that she freely gave her the winning tile (Nick) in their Mah Jong game, exemplifying the great truth of the Bible; the power of love always trumps the love of power.
1. The Hero Journey or Monomyth as it is sometimes called is found in all cultures at all times. The words in bold type are stages on the journey. For an excellent treatment see: The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler