When American cinemagoers turned out to see Crazy Rich Asians this weekend, they were treated to all the sumptuous food porn, breathtaking locations, and beautiful gowns that readers of Kevin Kwan’s novel expected. But in all the movie’s changes to the book plot, one stands out as both the most sensible, and the one most sadly missed. I’m talking, of course, about the moment the book’s most intriguing plot thread climaxes with a gag about anal sex.
The setup: Just like in the movie, the imperious Eleanor Young has hired a private detective to look into the background of her son Nick’s American girlfriend, Rachel Chu. What she’s found is a doozy — Rachel’s father isn’t dead; he’s a nogoodnik named Zhou Fang Min, who’s currently in prison in China. How awful! But thankfully, Kwan gives us a deus ex machina in the form of Rachel’s mother, Kerry, whom Nick flies in to save the day. Near the end of the book, Kerry explains to Rachel that, while she was indeed married to the terrible Fang Min, he isn’t the father. The real dad is a kind young man who helped her escape to America.
But something doesn’t add up for Rachel:
“Wait a minute. How did you know for sure he was the father?” Rachel asked, uncrossing her arms and leaning back against the window.
“Trust me Rachel, I just knew.”
“But how? This was back before DNA testing.”
Kerry shifted in her chair awkwardly, searching for the right words to explain. “One of these reasons I had such a hard time getting pregnant was because Fang Min had peculiar habits, Rachel. Because of his drinking, he had trouble getting erect, and when he was excited, he only liked to have a certain type of sex, and I knew I could not get pregnant that way.”
“Oh … ooh,” Rachel said, turning crimson when she realized what her mother meant.
Reader, when I got to this moment, I literally shouted out loud. The most popular vacation read of the last five years has a third-act plot twist that hinges on an anal-sex joke worthy of a 13-year-old boy! It’s a moment so nakedly farcical that you have to stand up and cheer at Kwan’s audacity. Jane Austen had more interesting characters and more skillful social satire, but even she never thought to tie up loose plot threads with a little backdoor action.
Somehow in all the discussion about Kwan’s novel, this moment has gone relatively unnoticed. As of Friday afternoon, a Google search for “crazy rich asians anal sex” returns only one result related to the book, and it’s a post by my colleague Jackson McHenry. This is wrong. When it comes to literary sex acts, the Crazy Rich Asians butt-stuff twist should be as infamous as It’s child orgy, or the Ben Wa balls of Fifty Shades.
(And to be sure, it is butt stuff. While I suppose it’s technically possible Kerry could be referring to oral sex, Fang Min’s tastes being framed as unusual, rather than lazy and entitled, makes the implication clear.)
With the movie’s success at the box office, director John M. Chu has started talking about adapting Kwan’s two sequels for the screen. There’s a chance that these movies will include some of the book material that didn’t make the cut Crazy Rich Asians, particularly where Harry Shum Jr. is involved. But they will almost certainly not include this terrible joke about anal sex, and for that they will be all the poorer.