Song of the Day #3,713: ‘Yellow’ – Katharine Ho

I haven’t had a chance to chime in on the astronomically stupid decision by the Motion Picture Academy to introduce a “Best Popular Film” Oscar to the Academy Awards lineup. How about you just broaden your definition of what constitutes excellence and allow that a movie people actually enjoy can also be award-worthy?

And don’t get me started on what I suspect was the genesis of this idea — lack of trust in the membership to give Black Panther a legit Best Picture nomination. As the astute film journalist Mark Harris put it on Twitter, “It truly is something that in the year Black Panther, a movie made just about entirely by and with black people, grosses $700 million, the Academy’s reaction is, ‘We need to invent something separate…but equal.'”

But setting aside the boneheaded decision to create the award in the first place, I’m intrigued by the prospect of the lineup looking something like this: The Avengers: Infinity War, Black Panther, Crazy Rich Asians, Incredibles 2, Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again. I’m pretty sure that group would please me more than the list of “real” Best Picture nominees, which is sure to be filled with bloated, stuffy Oscar bait movies.

OK, rant over. Now for a few words about one of those popular movies, Crazy Rich Asians.

This has been a great year for representation on the big screen. February gave us the aforementioned Black Panther, a black superhero film, written and directed by a black man and starring a mostly black cast. And now Crazy Rich Asians is the first major studio film with an all-Asian cast in a couple of decades, breathing new life into the romantic comedy genre.

Both films have enjoyed major box office success, not just because they appeal to underserved audiences but because they are damn good movies in their own right. And, importantly, they are damn good movies in large part because of their unique cultural perspectives.

In both films, the central conflict is tied to the racial identity of first-generation Americans, the essential “otherness” that comes with not belonging to one place or the other.

Crazy Rich Asians‘ lead character, Rachel (played by the wonderful Constance Wu), believes she’ll fit right in when meeting her Chinese boyfriend’s family back home in Singapore. But the New Yorker discovers she is as out of place in Asia as she often feels in the United States.

She also has to deal with the fact that her boyfriend, Nick (newcomer Henry Golding), is — you guessed it — crazy rich. As in, fly a private helicopter to your friend’s bachelor party-at-sea rich. And a transatlantic first class cabin bigger than some hotel rooms rich.

Rachel’s principal antagonist is Nick’s mother Eleanor, played with icy elegance by the great Michelle Yeoh, whose performance further elevates the film above typical rom-com territory. A Mahjong match between the two women has more suspense than most thrillers, thanks to Wu, Yeoh and director Jon Chu.

Chu makes some great musical choices in the film, often playing Mandarin versions of popular English-language songs. For one pivotal sequence, he uses a cover of Coldplay’s ‘Yellow’ performed by The Voice contestant Katherine Ho. The studio was initially hesitant to use a song with that title in a film about Asians, but Chu convinced them he wanted to embrace the color, saying “If we’re going to be called yellow, we’re going to make it beautiful.”

Coldplay, too, was reluctant to give their permission. The band had been caught up in controversies over cultural appropriation in the past (over videos set in China and India) and didn’t want to step in it again.

Chu convinced them with a letter in which he detailed his own history with the song, explaining that it helped him shift his thinking about the word “yellow” from a derogatory slur to something beautiful.

“I do believe this is a unique situation in which the first Hollywood studio film, with an All-Asian cast is not playing stereotypes or side-players, but romantic and comedic leads,” Chu wrote. “It will give a whole generation of Asian-Americans, and others, the same sense of pride I got when I heard your song. I want all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as your words and melody made me feel when I needed it most.”

He got their permission.

I love this movie because of this song and the story behind its selection. I love it for what it means to Asian-Americans, some of whom are seeing representations of themselves on a big screen for the very first time. And setting those things aside, I love it because it’s funny, romantic and smart like the best romantic comedies, and lord knows we don’t get enough of those.

我想知道 流星能飛多久
它的美麗 是否 值得去尋求
夜空的花 散落在你身後
幸福了我很久 值得去等候
於是我心狂奔 從黃昏到清晨 不能再承受

情願 墜落在你手中
羽化 成黑夜的彩虹
蛻變 成月光的清風 成月光的清風

幸福 跳進你的河流 一直游到盡頭 跳進你的河
幸福 跳進你的河流 一直游到盡頭 跳進你的河

幸福 跳進你的河流 一直游到盡頭 跳進你的河
幸福 跳進你的河流 一直游到盡頭 跳進你的河
幸福 跳進你的河流 一直游到盡頭 跳進你的河

我想知道 流星能飛多久
它的美麗 是否

6 thoughts on “Song of the Day #3,713: ‘Yellow’ – Katharine Ho

  1. Maddie says:

    I love this movie a ton and got even more emotional in the second viewing. Agreed completely about the weird misguided decision to create a new category which will inevitably take away awards for other creative types in the industry as well.

  2. Dana Gallup says:

    We thoroughly enjoyed this movie as well, including the soundtrack featuring songs like this one. Thank you for providing the background on the song selection. Really fascinating stuff.

    As for the bone-headed decision by the Oscars—I wonder if there has been or will be sufficient backlash to make them change their minds…if not this year than in future years. I think the right move would be to have separate awards for Best Drama and Best Comedy. I know this is fraught with its own problems of definition and inclusion, just as it now is in the Emmys and Golden Globes, but it would expand the pool and give recognition to comedies and romantic comedies that have been historically underrepresented.

  3. Amy says:

    Have you read he great article on Slate about the Mahjong scene? Eager to see the film again just to watch that scene once more. Loved the film to pieces. Hate the new Oscars category. I do admit to being surprised when this song came on. I’m not a big Coldplay fan, so I wasn’t making the connection, and I initially thought I was hearing things. Thanks for the insight into the decision behind featuring this song.

  4. Peg Clifton says:

    Wonderful review. We haven’t seen the movie yet but hope to soon. Having had one lesson in playing mahjong I look forward to that scene. Having some issues making out today’s lyrics 😊

  5. willedare says:

    Thank you for not only the musical but also the cultural education you often offer in your blog. Now I will go and support this movie, which I knew very little about…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.