The Prestige oracles
What’s the outrage over the movie when it’s really just a satire, the Secret Scribbler wonders
i once attended a kids’ birthday party with a restaurant bill bigger than most weddings. The entertainment included DJ, facepainting artist and high-end magician — even his balloon dogs looked gold-plated. The children were five.
When I was five, my birthday party was held in the living room, where we had a crayon-colouring competition, which was going quite splendidly until my friend Danny confused the orange crayon for a carrot and ate it. We couldn’t blame him. The party food was rubbish.
Those were simpler times. Birthday parties were easier, organised fun was cheaper and Danny’s crayon safely passed into a toilet an hour later.
The Singaporean birthday party, on the other hand, was more of a crazy bash hosted by rich Asian parents. Some might even call them crazy rich Asians.
At the party, I made small talk with the mother about the exclusive restaurant and her reply has never left me. “Oh, we were very lucky,” she said, quaffi ng something fizzy and exorbitant. “You know when you’re looking for that perfect place to do brunch?”
I really didn’t. I don’t “do” brunch, lunch or dinner because I’m not part of Sex and the City. I don’t “do” food. I eat it.
Besides, I’ve never had brunch before. It’s served between 10am and 2pm, which my father would call a post-hangover breakfast.
So my host’s follow-up was awkward: “Where do you do brunch?”
When I mentioned a hawker centre in Hougang, she responded with a look of horror that suggested I’d broken into her house. “But the toilets,” she spluttered, “they’re never clean.”
“I don’t eat my food in the toilet,” I pointed out.
“But they’re just so, so, filthy.”
That’s not entirely true. Hawker centre toilets are cleaned, with potted plants added for colour, whenever a ministerial visit is planned. If you want to pee in these places, go when the minister goes.
But my host appeared distracted, staring off into the distance. “I went to a hawker centre once,” she said wistfully, as if recalling a perilous trip down the Amazon.
She transposed words and verbs in a fashion not heard in Singapore, or anywhere else outside of a genteel tea room in Edwardian London. She had that unique accent found in five-star hotel lobbies across the world, but nowhere else. She sounded a lot like the actors in Crazy Rich Asians.
After that children’s birthday party and a few other blacktie events, it’s hard to see what all the fuss is about over the movie. Several scenes feel like a documentary.
Besides, the clue is in the title. The movie is a comical, exaggerated look at a small, niche group. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre wasn’t criticised for not being an authentic representation of Texas. Not every Texan wears a mask made from human skin and engages in mass murder and cannibalism. According to polls, no more than half of them pursue such hobbies.
Rich Asians are not all crazy and no one ever said they were. On the contrary, their charity galas raise millions for philanthropic causes. Nevertheless, I have met Singaporeans who’ve bought Hermès scarves — for their dogs.
They weren’t particularly attractive dogs either, but the flatfaced kind whose squished features suggest they spend too much time chasing parked cars. Now, that’s a little crazy.
Another had a child who wanted to break up the tedium of the long vacation between terms, so he was signed up for a kids’ holiday camp — in the Cayman Islands. Well, Sentosa does get extraordinarily busy during the school holidays.
Still, when you can afford to send the kid off to the Cayman Islands and stick a Hermès scarf on a pug, you’ve got nothing to worry about from a little ribbing in a Hollywood movie.
Crazy Rich Asians is a comical caricature that pokes fun at people we’ve all met.
But the film does get one aspect of our culture spectacularly wrong. No one sweats. Ever. In every outdoor scene, no one perspires. That’s not just crazy. That’s insane. Perspiration is the great social leveller in our diverse society. Rich or poor, everyone sweats in Singapore.
And on that note, I’m off to put my apartment on the market. My kid wants a birthday party with the high-end magician.