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Crazy Rich Asians: What a Jewish Mother Can Tell You About the Symbolic Mahjong Scene

In Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu, based on the first of three novels by Kevin Kwan, there is a scene in which the mother of Singapore’s most desired, richest bachelor plays a game of mahjong.

Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), the mother of bachelor Nick, plays mahjong against Nick’s American girlfriend; Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). Rachel is a professor of GAME THEORY, and a specialist in win-win and win-lose compeitiions.

Wink Wink.

Mahjong is famously played by Jewish and Asian woman across the world. In the game, four players get sets of 13 tiles with Chinese characters on them. There are numbers and suits. Players try to create sets of three or four matching or sequenced tiles (like poker). The goal is for the winning player to get the most sequences into winning hands before their opponents. In order to win, a player must track which tiles an opponent discards, and have a strategy. If you figure out what your opponent is getting rid of, you can know her strategy.

Sometimes to win, you have to coopoerate; other times you need to ruthlessly compete.

If you have three of the same tile, it is a PONG. If you have three tile in sequential order in the same suit, you have a CHOW.

During the film’s mahjong scene, Eleanor arrives at a mahjong parlor. It is a parlor for middle and lower class Singaporeans, one that an elite Eleanor would never visit.

Eleanor is seated to the “East;” and is given the role of “dealer.” (East = Singapore). Rachel, of course, therefore sits in the “West” seat, that of Western ways in America, the daughter of a single mother, who fled China’s Cultural Revolution.

Eleanor is trying to win via a PONG… matching tiles of “sameness,” creating a “kakilang” of matches.

Think of an Israeli Jew marrying an American Jew, or a Lithuanian Jew marrying a Mizrachi Jew. There are those who would not find this to be a PONG, even though they are both Jewish.

Look at what Eleanor has discarded…. the Bamboo tiles.

Tiles with the image of bamboo… It is akin to discarding “bananas”… (yellow on the outside, white on the inside).

At a critical moment, Rachel tells Eleanor a secret about her son, while holding the “eight of bamboo” tile in her hand. Eight, as you are aware, is a lucky number for prosperity. Why else did I see the film during its opening weekend on 8/18/18 in the “818” area code?

Both women need this tile to WIN.

Well I won’t ruin the plot for you here…. but do your mother a favor… take her to see the film and then let her teach you the joy of mahjong.

2 Comments

  1. Pharmacycenter

    8/29/2018 at 3:40 am

    Despite the critical acclaim, the box office success , and the fabulous jade carpet roll out, some critics have decried Crazy Rich Asians for not being all things to all Asians .

  2. larry

    8/29/2018 at 8:13 am

    Well as a famed Hollywood producer said, ‘If you want to send a message, call Western Union.’ No film is all things to all people. It is a romantic-comedy, which happens to feature mostly Chinese-Asians, and some Phillipinos. It is based on the first of a trilogy of books by Singapore-born Kevin Kwan.

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