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The Selective Singapore of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

Does the film really show us Singapore? It's a city where more than 80 percent of people live in public housing blocks called HDBs, yet we never see one.
Singapore's gardens and luxury hotels play a big role in "Crazy Rich Asians."
Singapore's gardens and luxury hotels play a big role in "Crazy Rich Asians."Wong Maye-E/AP

City-as-film character is an oft-used device: Think of how New York shapes Manhattan or the way Paris’s Montmartre neighborhood serves as a companion to the lonely heroine in Amélie. But when Hollywood invokes non-Western metropolises for this purpose, the portrayals can be shallow—though this may not register with or feel significant to Western audiences.  

The 2003 film Lost in Translation, for instance—the story of two forlorn Americans befriending each other in a bewildering Tokyo—was roundly adored in the United States, earning an Academy Award and three Golden Globes, but in Tokyo it played in only one theater. Japanese viewers and critics (as well as Asian-Americans) found its depictions of Japanese people (short, eccentric, unable to pronounce English correctly) and urban life (alienating, hypersexualized, and either ultramodern or nostalgically traditional) discriminatory and insulting.