Crazy Rich Asians has been a remarkable success in the western world, becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy in more than a decade while riding a wave of critical acclaim and pro-diversity rhetoric, while hopefully paving the way for future stories with more Asian representation. At the same time, though, the film has yet to open in one of its potentially most lucrative markets—China.
Approval of Crazy Rich Asians might seem inevitable for such a large Asian market, but there are many complicating factors. Its fate is currently in the hand of government regulators at China’s Film Bureau, and “state-owned monopoly importer China Film,” according to Variety. And it’s been languishing in those places for months, having been initially submitted for approval before the film released in North America. In fact, even after filmmakers proactively went out of their way to cut anything that might be perceived by regulators as negative toward China, the odds of the film having a wide release in the Middle Kingdom now are increasingly slim, given the long delay.
There are significant other factors that could be working against the film as well. One is its very subject matter—wealth, power and affluence. China is in the midst of a crack-down on ostentatious, public displays of wealth, especially in the entertainment sector. Look no further than Fan Bingbing, the country’s highest-paid and most famous actress, who disappeared for months before it was revealed that she owed more than $100 million to the government. Bingbing eventually reappeared and made a suspiciously government-friendly apology statement, while promising to pay back all of her debt. It wouldn’t be surprising if China was looking at the content of Crazy Rich Asians and deciding that it would send the wrong idea in their current social climate.
Then there’s the ongoing tension between China and the U.S. over President Donald Trump’s trade war, in which Warner Bros. could find itself a proxy victim. And finally, as Variety points out, even the domestic Chinese film industry is seeing a large-scale regulatory slowdown as film regulation transfers under the direct control of the Community Party Propaganda Department. This means that even Chinese domestic films are wading through increasing bureaucracy before they’re able to get anything done. Foreign films, like Crazy Rich Asians? They have to pass far stricter requirements.
“Nothing is moving at all. We are simply not getting answers,” said one Chinese distributor to Variety. “We’ve seen some films get approval with only two weeks notice.”
All in all, then, the outlook doesn’t look rosy for Crazy Rich Asians. The film has already become extremely successful, but a big opening in China could have vaulted it into rarefied air, for a romantic comedy. Now though, that may never come to be.