If youâve read anything about movies online in the wake ofÂ Crazy Rich Asians, youâve probably encountered a narrative that goes a little something like this: the rom-com was dead, andÂ Crazy Rich AsiansÂ brought it back, like a more wholesome version of Dr. Frankenstein. Itâs a nice, Hollywood-esque story of an underdog emerging triumphant. And whileÂ Crazy Rich AsiansÂ is indeed an important and admirable two hours of glitzy fun, in the face of some of the hyperbolic narratives floating around itâs worthwhile to take a step back and consider a slightly more nuanced argument.
First and foremost, after seeing the film, there is a simple fact that must be addressed: callingÂ Crazy Rich Asians a rom-com is a bit of a misnomer. In all honesty, it should be called a flat-out romance. Yes, it has funny bits, but every film worth its salt apart from the darkest of dramas has some element of comedy to it. The definingÂ feature of a romantic comedy from His Girl FridayÂ toÂ When Harry Met SallyÂ is that the couple at the center of the action is also the primary source of humor. While Rachel and Nick are adorable together, theyâre not actually all that funny. The film relies on supporting characters likeÂ Goh Peik Lin and her wacky family for laughs, and when a film relies on secondary characters for humor, comedy should also be considered to hold a supporting role.
The second thing to consider is that, as I have addressed before, romance has recently been absent from big-budget Hollywood productionsâand the success ofÂ Crazy Rich AsiansÂ should hopefully help turn that aroundâbut that doesnât mean it was dead. While Hollywood suffered temporary amnesia regarding the existenceÂ of romance, it flourished elsewhere, both here in the US in independent films and abroad.
On the indie side, the past ten years or so has produced such gems asÂ Seeking a Friend for the End of the World,Â Obvious Child,Â Safety Not Guaranteed, and Sing Street.Â Note that the serious romantic drama has never, ever suffered a droughtâjust look at a list of any yearâs Oscar nomineesâso Iâm not going to even try to list them all. In this instance, the prevalence of the romantic drama is the exception that proves the rule.
And then there are international releases. For those willing to put in the minimal exertion that is reading subtitlesâor who are somehow unbothered by the travesty that is dubbingâthere is a veritable treasure trove of recent romances to be found. Somewhat ironically, considering it looks likeÂ Crazy Rich AsiansÂ just might kickstart a new wave of Hollywood romances, the markets producing some of the most consistent romantic content are Asian. In terms of sheer output, Bollywood is hard to beat and has also released titles to critical acclaim, such as 2013âsÂ The Lunchbox.Â In Japan, romance remains a staple anime genre, as indicated by recent hits such asÂ Your Name. Meanwhile, while American productions are just catching on to the enormous potential of quality productions featuring fanfiction-worthy tropes, as Valerie Ettenhofer recently discussed here at FSR, South Korea has already mastered the art form. Yes, the Korean film industry may be better known for romantic dramas, but itâs also produced a lot of more light-hearted, but still trope-filled fare, with options featuring everything from body-swapping (The Beauty Inside) to firefighter-and-doctor (Love 911) to magician-and-girl-who-sees-ghosts (Spellbound).
Returning to Hollywood, the main thing that separatesÂ this new class of mainstream romantic filmsâmost notably,Â Crazy Rich AsiansÂ andÂ Love, Simonâfrom the wave of uninspiring mediocrity that hit in the mid-2000sÂ is that, through embracing diversity, they manage to utilize the pleasant familiarity of tried and true narrative tropes while being different enough to avoid being overly repetitive. Considering Hollywood has never been on the cutting edge when it comes to things like representation and diversity, itâs hardly surprising that it took a push in the form of critical and commercial indie successes such as The Big SickÂ to convince the major studios to join in.
MaybeÂ Crazy Rich AsiansÂ will beckon in a new era of Hollywood romances. Or maybe it wonât. But regardless, if one looks beyond to indie and international titles, a good new romance is never hard to find.