How Crazy Rich Asians’ Editor Turned A Mahjong Scene Into An Avengers-Style Battle

Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians
(Image credit: (Warner Bros.))

This article contains some spoilers about the end of Crazy Rich Asians. You've been warned!

With a closer look at Crazy Rich Asians, there is quite the clever shift between the light and funny romantic comedy that draws us in and the dramatic second act we are dazzled with as the credits roll. It's quite the subversive take on an ensemble comedy that critics and audiences alike have been celebrating with box office highs we forgot a movie of this genre could achieve. One scene in particular is arguably the most powerful in the film, and has nothing to do with the romance between Rachel and Nick. It's when Rachel (Constance Wu) challenges Nick's mother (Michelle Yeoh) to a game of Mahjong. It's a dense and dramatic sequence, and when I spoke with the film's editor Myron Kerstein, he noted that he considers it the highlight of his career: his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon:

The Mahjong scene to me is the spiritual center of the film. That's where these two strong female characters collide. This is our finale, it's a big fight sequence, our Avengers fighting it out, but it's under the guise of this formal setting. Those types of scenes are kind of like a ballet or slow dance or subtle tête-à-tête, and those are hard scenes to cut [together]. It's almost easier when you have two people screaming at each other... So I had to figure out a way to also convey a game that nobody really knows. So how do you do that? How do you represent with looks and little pieces and gameplay here and there that this piece represents... for example, with this piece I'm sacrificing my love for Nick and at the same time sacrificing this tile in order to get this idea across on my emphasis on it.

Just like a high-budget battle sequence right out of an Avengers film, a scene such as this relies on action and careful editing for the scene to be entertaining and coherent. Myron Kerstein was able to convey Mahjong to a diverse audience, many of which probably had never heard of or played the game, and have them understand exactly what happened in the scene. He noted that he himself didn't know the details of its gameplay until he watched director Jon Chu and actress Michelle Yeoh discussing the game as they filmed the scene. He treated the gameplay between Constance Wu and Yeoh as choreography as he crafted the cut together.

Myron Kerstein also credits Constance Wu's performance as inspiration when cutting the scene, as she gave a particularly powerful performance. While playing the game she shares a realization to Eleanor about her own self-worth and identity that has been challenged throughout the film through her judgement. Said Kerstein,

It's just a really beautiful and dramatic scene that I think no one's ever seen before. Constance gave a really beautiful performance, but it had a lot of [variety]. Often times the scene was so emotional for her that she would break down, but there was one line both from the script and the performance she delivered to pull the whole scene outward. In this line 'I'm not leaving because I'm scared or because I think I'm not enough, because maybe for the first time in my life I know I am.' For this performance, I really needed to build the whole performance into this ballet, this gameplay, for this moment when she laid down tiles to Michelle which conveys 'I could have won this game the whole time. I could have won this game with your son, just like this physical game,' and I just think that having a scene like that you get once in a lifetime.

The scene is certainly quite the showdown of emotions for the two characters who both were looking in the best interests of Nick from their perspectives but couldn't meet in the middle. Crazy Rich Asians challenged the ideals of a culture with its message as Rachel embraced and Nick's affluent family embraced her upbringing with a single mother as being enough for the Prince Harry of the east. The film is currently in theaters, and will likely be available on home video before the end of the year.

Sarah El-Mahmoud
Staff Writer

YA genre tribute. Horror May Queen. Word webslinger. All her writing should be read in Sarah Connor’s Terminator 2 voice over.