Crazy Rich Asia

With an unexpected hit on its hands, perhaps Hollywood will use more films like “Crazy Rich Asians” to illustrate key concepts about a region that is the biggest economic success story of the last several decades. There are many more stories about that story to be told.

CAMBRIDGE – In the surprise hit movie “Crazy Rich Asians” (based on a 2013 Kevin Kwan novel), a New York University economics professor (Rachel), travels with her boyfriend to Singapore to meet his family. There, she learns, apparently for the first time, that her significant other (Nick) is heir to one of Asia’s largest fortunes and has a mother intent on making sure her son does not marry a commoner, Asian-American or not.

Partly because of its (terrific) all-Asian cast (an extreme rarity), and partly because it recalls earlier eras of great romantic comedies, the film has caused a lot of buzz. Perhaps there will even be a long overdue Oscar for Michelle Yeoh (from “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”), who plays the steely but loving mother.

But the film also stars Singapore, a place unfamiliar to most Westerners. For some, the real shocker in the movie will be just how crazy rich parts of Asia have become.

To get a sense of the island city-state’s meteoric rise, one need only compare the glittering metropolis depicted in “Crazy Rich Asians” with the hut-filled fishing village depicted in the 1940 classic comedy, “Road to Singapore,” starring Bing Crosby, Dorothy Lamour, and Bob Hope. The comparison makes it easy to understand how the fictional Young family became ultra-rich as early real-estate investors. With annual output of approximately $325 billion in 2017 and 5.6 million inhabitants, Singapore now ranks with Denmark economically (though its population is more diverse).

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© Project Syndicate

© Project Syndicate

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