Crazy Rich Asians: Why you will never be good enough for your tiger mother-in-law

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Crazy Rich Asians (2018) is currently #1 in box offices all over the world.

At a simple level, this delightful rom-com is an Asian version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002).

The title alone gives us permission to laugh at the idiosyncrasies of the Asian culture, especially with its preoccupation with family, food, and fast cars. But Asians will need no permission to laugh as they will easily recognize themselves—and their aunties and cousins—in the movie.

The message is clear. If you date and marry an Asian, you’re not only marrying your love interest, but you’re also marrying his network of gossiping family and friends.

But the movie also gives us permission to explore the cultural differences between the East and the West. Collectivism versus individualism. Hierarchy versus egalitarianism. Shame-honour versus guilt-forgiveness.

In the West, you have to do whatever it takes to make you happy. But in the East, you have to do whatever it takes to make your parents happy.

Or, as in the case of Crazy Rich Asians, you have to do whatever it takes to make your mother-in-law happy.

That’s because, in the movie, there are no father figures. By and large, with the exception of a comedic cameo by Ken Jeong, the fathers, grandfathers, and uncles are completely absent. Instead, the society is a matriarchy, ruled by the fierce disapproving stares of the mother, grandmother, and aunties. 

Many recent Hollywood movies have played the daddy-issues card. But this movie is showing that, for many of us, there will also be mummy-issues.

A pivotal moment in the movie is when the future mother-in-law (Michelle Yeoh) says to her son’s girlfriend (Constance Wu), “You will never be enough.” Why? Because “you’re not our own kind.”

Ouch! Is that a cat screeching, or the roar of a tiger mum?

And so Constance Wu’s mission is to prove she is enough. By becoming of the Asian culture.

But what if we’re not the sassy, kick-ass mah-jong-playing PhD professor that Constance Wu is? What if we don’t have a boyfriend’s (Henry Golding) proposal to use as leverage? How can we prove ourselves? And what’s to stop Constance Wu becoming her own tiger mum one day?

And this, oh-so-very-simply, is the problem with our human endeavour. We have to prove ourselves. To our family, friends, father-figures, mummy-figures, and tribe.

But if we have to prove ourselves to earn our love and belonging, then what sort of love and belonging will we find? Flimsily conditional at best. Or non-existent at worst.

And what sort of people do we become? Will we repeat the cycle to our children? Will we project our fears and anxieties upon them, as they act as our proxies? Will my love and belonging depend on my children’s achievements? Or who they marry? Or whose love they can leverage?

The only way to break this cycle is if we ourselves find unconditional love and belonging.

In the movie Crazy Rich Asians, Constance Wu is the outsider trying to break in to find love and belonging. But, in the Bible, Jesus flips it around. He swaps positions with us. Jesus becomes the outsider. Jesus crosses all cultural barriers to come into our world to offer us love and belonging in his world.

Jesus proves he is good enough for us. So that we never have to prove that we’re good enough for him.

 

1 John 4:9-11

 

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