What Exactly Happens in the ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Mahjong Scene?
The following post contains SPOILERS for Crazy Rich Asians that will really only make sense if you play mahjong.
I really liked Crazy Rich Asians. It’s a fun modern twist on the classic screwball romantic comedy, with a wonderful cast and some very moving scenes about family. Although obviously focused on Asian characters, it’s also a universally accessible film. Really the only scene I felt like I didn’t fully *get* was the mahjong game between Rachel (Constance Wu) and Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) because, well, it involves mahjong.
The game becomes the final confrontation between Rachel and Eleanor over Nick (Henry Golding), who is Rachel’s boyfriend and Eleanor’s son. Eleanor doesn’t like Rachel because she is Asian American, and by this point in the film, she has also uncovered information about Rachel’s past that differs from the story Rachel herself tells. (In fact, Rachel never knew the truth about her own father.)
Eleanor so disapproves of Rachel and Nick’s relationship that Rachel is prepared to walk away from the man she loves forever. Before she does, though, she arranges to have Eleanor meet her for a game of mahjong, where they discuss their respective lives and families. At the end of the game, Eleanor wins and Rachel says goodbye and leaves. As someone who has never played mahjong, my assumption was that Rachel had a winning hand, and deliberately gave away the winning tile, enabling Eleanor to win, in order to prove she’s more resilient and resourceful than Eleanor thinks.
But that was just my guess based on the characters and their conflicts and reactions. Thankfully, Bourree Lam, an editor at Refinery29, posted this very helpful Twitter thread, explaining precisely what’s happening in the game between Rachel and Eleanor:
Basically, I got the gist, but I missed all the nuance. It’s actually a great scene, and even though I needed some of the finer points explained to me I respect the fact that director Jon M. Chu didn’t try to force an awkward conversation about the rules of mahjong into the game; these women both know how to play and would never do something like that. Still, I wouldn’t object to a special feature on the Blu-ray that breaks this scene down in exacting detail.
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