Crazy Rich Portrayal
I am not crazy rich, but I am Asian. So what struck me most in this summer’s runaway rom-com hit, Crazy Rich Asians, was not just the spectacular Singapore locations, the food porn, the ravishing set design, or seeing myself, my aunties, my cousins and my culture represented on the big screen by an ever-so-slightly more attractive, standout all-Asian cast.
It was the deeply nuanced portrayal of the middle-age matriarch, Eleanor Young, by the acclaimed Chinese-Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh, 56. Eleanor is a victim of the Chinese sandwich generation, squeezed between her duty to uphold the family dynasty and her love for her son and his personal happiness. In Yeoh’s masterful hands, Eleanor is an elegant, impeccably restrained, maternal force with a soul-crushing side eye in the name of family.
I understand this because my mother was very much like Eleanor (although not quite as restrained). She was caught between upholding my grandparent’s ideal of happiness and success and her own daughter’s desire to marry whomever she loved, in this case a Jew from Long Island. That’s where the hyphen separates the Chinese from the American. It was fated to end in unhappiness. (It didn’t, but that’s another story.)
In the GQ article, Michelle Yeoh has Kicked Ass for Three Decades, writer Michelle Lhooq, observes “Yeoh could have easily slipped into the campy caricature of the domineering Asian mother. Instead, she again insisted on not playing into stereotypes, choosing to telegraph how her character’s protectiveness stemmed from Asian values of self-sacrifice and family. Yeoh prefers to call her character a “dragon mom,” with dragons being the most powerful yet benevolent creatures in Asian culture.”
Which leads me to the question, aren't all moms dragon moms in some sense? Aren't we guilty of deeming what is best for our little treasures and then giving the disapproving side eye when they veer from that college education, that boy next door or that perfect job that we’ve decided is critical to their happiness?
But in the end, as the powerful, benevolent creatures that we are, shouldn't we sacrifice our own preconceived notions for the ultimate love of family in letting them seek their own happiness?
My mother did.
Watch Michelle Yeoh on why Eleanor Young is every mother.