Well, the movie has been pushed back due to the (Asian, female) scriptwriter quitting after learning she was being paid way less than her (white, male) cowriter. Here’s hoping that gets worked out, and that they hire other equally skilled Asian writers.
But until then, we have the book to tide us over.
First of all, China Rich Girlfriend takes place mostly in mainland China in 2013, which is just about the exact time I was living there (2011-2013), so I loved this book. I laughed at the idiosyncrasies of China (“The police officer gave me a ticket for stopping at a red light!”), lusted over the food, and overall enjoyed the aesthetic.
That being said, this book had a few elements I didn’t like. Let’s get into them here, 99% spoiler-free.
Not offensive to women = 0/1 pt
Yes, I’ll explain my feelings more below.
Features a woman as the main protagonist and/or supporting character = 2/2 pts
Once again, the books revolve around Rachel Chu, who goes to China to meet a long-lost family member. This book does more work to make Rachel and Nick feel like real people (their wedding band is a famous one they both like, one of the main, boring things from the first book that was supposed to signal how meant for each other they were.). I liked getting to know the characters and felt that was an improvement from the first book. But once again, satirizing and showing Asian culture is the real star of the book.
Passes the Bechdel-Wallace test = 3/3 pts
Yes, mostly main character Rachel with other characters. The funniest/weirdest part of this book was the appearance of Peik Lin, Rachel’s college friend. Played so stunningly by Awkwafina in the Crazy Rich Asians movie, it was the first time a movie character has completely subsumed a book character for me. Every time Book-Peik Lin talked I thought “Eh? Who is this personality-less nobody?”
Recommended: Visit New Asia in Dorothy Dreyer’s futuristic fantasy novel Crimson Mage.
Artistic and/or Entertaining = 4/4 pts
Like I said, I just loved this book! Having lived in China, I can tell you it is so true to life. While other readers might not get the jokes in the same way as I do, they’re sure to enjoy it all the same, and probably learn something, too.
The plot was weak, especially the conclusion, and a lot of things happen off-screen, since main characters Rachel and Nick are not in Singapore. But the focus on Rachel and Nick as people helped make this installment not feel redundant. Overall, I’m excited for the movie (and Awkwafina), and also excited to return to Singapore for book three, Rich People Problems.
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Above and Beyond General Media = 2/5 pts
Here’s where the book faltered. I gave it points for the same reasons as the last book: important Asian rep. But one aspect really bothered me and that is a light spoiler. It doesn’t impact the main plots at all, and won’t take away your enjoyment of the book, but feel free to skip now if you don’t trust me!
The book begins with Carleton Bao crashing his car in England and severely injuring himself and his two passengers, a Chinese woman and a British woman. The British woman dies. This incident is pulled directly from the real world: in 2012, a rich Chinese boy hit a bicyclist and then stabbed her to ensure she was dead. This enraged the Chinese public, who claimed he only escaped jail due to his family’s wealth. The murderer was later tried and executed, but public outcry was what made it happen. I was really engaged with Kevin Kwan’s choice to use this plot, since I’d lived in China at the time and Kwan’s books examine wealth and privilege.
He completely dropped the ball here. Not only do we only see glimpses of Carleton’s guilt, the book culminates with a fight with his parents, finally revealing to his father what happened (his mother had helped him hide it from his father). I thought there would be some big reveal here, like that he’d been dating the British woman instead of the Chinese woman, but no, we don’t even learn their NAMES. I was shocked that so much time an energy was spent on Carleton and down to the last the women were given zero thought. It could have been handled a lot better and was disrespectful. This annoyed me so much I can’t give full points here.
Hopefully the movie fixes these problems, whenever it does come out. You can read my review of Crazy Rich Asians: The Book here, and The Movie here.
Click here to buy China Rich Girlfriend, then tell us what you thought in the comments!
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