I Am Rachel Chu
Location: Basement Theatre
Date: February 20th 2019
Rating: 5/5 stars
Reviewed by: JENNIFER CHEUK
*All quotations have been pulled from an interview with the director, Nathan Joe.
I Am Rachel Chu fights back against the “illusion of representation” in Hollywood films. We are forced to see the people on screen as representative of ourselves. But, is this who we are? An Asian-American Economics major from NYU? Does Asian now equate Rachel Chu? Are the characters in Crazy Rich Asians really representing us? Nathan Joe, director of I Am Rachel Chu, confronts the reality of Asian lives. Nathan speculates that “[the film] sits within these really conventional Hollywood standards…glamourising the rich, indulging in unhealthy standards of beauty…[this is what] makes it so appealing to audiences”. I know I can speak for more than myself when I saw I enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians – so did Nathan Joe. But throughout the film, something gnawed at me, something was just a little off about the portrayal of these Asian characters. Was my Asian life the ‘correct’ Asian life? I was not doing economics, I was not crazy rich, and I was not being proposed to by ‘The Asian Bachelor’. There seemed to be a disjunction, a tension, between the ‘real’ Asian life and what was portrayed in a Hollywood film.
But I Am Rachel Chu fixes this disjunction between the fictional character and real person. It intends “to liberate our Asian Cinderella from her oppressive fairy-tale narrative”. It took Crazy Rich Asians as a stimulus and made it something we could all relate to. Instead of the cookie-cutter Rachel Chu of pseudo-representation, we had the Rachel Chu who experienced racism in primary school, the Rachel Chu who was told acting was not a real profession. The real Rachel Chu. Each actor on stage was a different perspective of Asian. Rather than one Rachel Chu, there were multiple. Rachel Chu was no longer a subtly oppressed symbol of representation, but rather she became a person. This performance questioned the stereotypes and societal boundaries that we, ourselves, create. We create these with film, media, news, words, sentences – our whole world is constructed of abstract concepts that attempt to oppress and stereotype. I Am Rachel Chu took these stereotypes, consumed them, and regurgitated something new. It was a theatrical response to Crazy Rich Asians: “We are playing with the idea of inserting ourselves into the narrative in really forceful ways,” Nathan comments. “We talk over the text, tweak it, comment on it, and interrupt it with games.”
Nathan’s I Am Rachel Chu is messy, it is funny, it is poignant and it is real. It is exactly what I wanted to see as someone part of the Asian minority. More often than not, minorities exist in liminal spaces – the spaces between. We are not quite enough to be the protagonist, but we can be a secondary character that appears every now and then for comedic effect. Crazy Rich Asians changed that by putting Asian characters in the forefront. But, there was still a liminality about Crazy Rich Asians. It existed in the space between Hollywood and truth. I felt as though these Asian characters were being moulded into pre-approved American characters. I felt as though I wanted their life, not that I could relate to their life. I Am Rachel Chu responded to this by bringing Asian characters to the stage in all of their glory. I Am Rachel Chu represented “the PEOPLE you know – [who are] more interesting than we give them credit for”. Instead of the Asian life being exaggerated and glamourised for media consumption, I Am Rachel Chu taught us what real representation is – a portrayal of the people we are, not the people we want to see.
There was no hatred for Crazy Rich Asians, but rather a demand to see real people do and say real things. In Crazy Rich Asians I yearned for the life of Rachel Chu, but in I Am Rachel Chu I felt acknowledged – I was Rachel Chu. This is a fantastic commentary and response to the pseudo ‘Asian representation’ of Crazy Rich Asians. I highly recommend it to everyone.
I Am Rachel Chu is playing at Basement Theatre till the 23rd February. Get your tickets here!
JENNIFER CHEUK is an English/Communications and Linguistics major with a passion for graphic novels and sophisticated picture books. She likes eating grated cheese and watching niche films. Can be found cartooning and writing on Instagram: @selcouthbird.
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