How do you produce a rock-solid, two-hour long advertisement for a travel destination? And even if you could, how do you then get people to pay to see it? Welcome to Singapore’s destination marketing coup that is the hit movie Crazy Rich Asians.
The story is set in Singapore so it is no surprise that the city features large in screen time. But the story is also an homage to travel (it is one of few books I’ve read recently that put the effort in to getting the travel details correct every step of the way) and in this case that’s an homage to Singapore, particularly the Marina Bay area. The famous half fish, half lion Merilon statue appears to have more screen time than some characters.
There are gratuitous shots of the small ferries that ply the waters of that bay, carrying tourists back and forth. A rooftop party on the pool deck of the Marina Bay Sands hotel also features in the film. Sweeping views of Sentosa Island and other key tourist landmarks also make appearances on screen.
The book itself sets little of the story around Marina Bay. Clearly some liberties were taken in the making of the movie. And these bits that come off a bit like product placement (only if you’ve read the book, I suppose) might be slightly disappointing. Don’t let them be. There are other parts that truly touch on the amazing things that travel can deliver, in Singapore and beyond.
Some of that comes from the lines Rachel shares as she experiences many travel firsts. First class suites? Why, yes, they do have pajamas for those passengers (though maybe not quite as luxurious as she makes them out to be). Arriving at Changi Airport? The zinger comparison she draws against JFK is well placed.
But for me there are two specific travel scenes that stand out the most. The first comes just after arrival in Singapore and they go out for food at the hawker stalls. Much like the book, the nuance and detail of the hawker stall experience that manages to come through in the movie is incredible. I don’t particularly love Singapore as a destination to visit but I absolutely love the hawker stalls something special.
On a weekend trip from NYC a few years back a small group of us fought off jetlag by simply hopping between the hawker markets, pausing just long enough to refuel at each stop before heading on to the next one. They are lively, energetic, a little chaotic and incredibly delicious. That experience comes through on the screen spectacularly well. Even the little things, like buying a pack of napkins, show up. I found myself licking my lips throughout the scene; it was that good.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) October 27, 2016
The second travel scene of the movie I really connected with comes at the end. I don’t want to spoil it but there’s a great exchange between the two lead characters that happens while boarding a flight to leave town. And the final version turns out to not be what was originally planned. Rather than the two characters sitting next to each other and chatting they converse across the aisles of the plane as they walk back through the economy class cabin. And they interact with everyone around them along the way. That includes the guy who reclines while still at the gate, the passengers who cannot get their bags in the bins and the passengers pushing behind them as if there’s a race to be seated first. All of those bits and more come through in that scene and it is glorious. Like many things in the movie it appears slightly over the top, but it works because we’ve all had similar moments on a flight.
Read More: Searching for the soul of Singapore
Go see the movie. Enjoy the drama of the mahjong scene. Enjoy the over-the-top luxury of the lifestyle projected by these “Crazy Rich Asians.” And then plan a trip for the hawker stalls and fill those travel desires. They’re worth it, even if you don’t really like Singapore.
One parting shot on how well they represent travel in the movie: They didn’t use JFK for the departure scene. That’s mildly annoying.
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