Crazy Rich Asians Director: Jon M. Chu Writer: Adele Lim, Peter Chiarelli Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Kris Aquino, Lisa Lu, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh Distributor: Warner Bros. Rated PG-13 | Minutes: 121 Release Date: August 15, 2018
Romantic comedies may be a dime a dozen, but every once in a while there comes one that can change the course of cinema. And in the age of having more representation on the big screen, no film is more important than Crazy Rich Asians. Director Jon M. Chu‘s adaptation of the Kevin Kwan novel of the same name represents that shift. It’s a film that changes the genre by looking at it from a different perspective, one that has been largely ignored for almost an entire generation.
And because of that, Crazy Rich Asians is not only a special film but one that is also highly entertaining and enlightening. Check out my full review below.
In Crazy Rich Asians Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, only to become thrust into the lives of Asia’s rich and famous. She discovers that her boyfriend comes from a very wealthy family with a dark past and that every woman wants him.
While the film may have an Asian-driven narrative, it still connects to its audience with the very basic tropes of a rom-com. And yet it still offers us something new because audiences are seeing this film, which could have been a generic vanilla rom-com from an entirely new cultural perspective.
It has been 25 years since an all Asian cast has appeared in a mainstream film. So this is a pretty significance moment. Even Jon M. Chu says that Crazy Rich Asians is a “movement.” Which is true. For so long, people of color have served as supporting or secondary characters. Which is even worse for those who are of Asian descent, where their characters have to play up to disgusting Hollywood clichés.
But here we have a film that manages to subvert all of that, for both genders. Women are no longer quiet and submissive, they are strong and intelligent, refusing to back down to any form of discrimination. In the opening scene, we see Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) facing bigotry and inequality over a hotel reservation dispute. Though she had made one well in advance, hotel management do not welcome her and tell her she would be better off finding accommodations in Chinatown. Little do they know that she has some major pull with those above their pay grade, and not only does she get a penthouse suite, but the owner hands over ownership to her.
Rachel Chu is strong in her own way. While she may not have had the same upbringing as Eleanor, she is a self-made woman who pursued her dreams instead of having her life shaped for her by her parents. As the youngest economics professor at NYU she knows her stuff, and despite having that New York attitude, nothing can really prepare her for what is to come in Singapore.
This brings over the idea of Asian vs Asian American, a notion that Rachel’s mother (Tan Kheng Hua) brings up before her trip. Rachel says that she is “So Chinese she’s an economics professor with lactose intolerance.” Despite that, her mother says that she may look Asian, but Nick’s family might see something very different.
It’s a dichotomy so rarely addressed in a mainstream film, so it’s actually very refreshing to see that be addressed. But their chemistry comes through, as they fight for who they love. Both clearly want what’s best for Nick, even though there are tradition clashes with contemporary styles. Because of that, we are able to understand their points of views. Again, it would be very different had it not been a rom-com with a culturally driven narrative.
And despite some of those cultural differences, Crazy Rich Asians connects to its audience with those rom-com tropes, especially when it pulls a little bit from Meet the Parents and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner. It’s funny and even manages to toy with those Asian stereotypes by poking fun at itself. Yes, Eleanor is a tiger mom who will protect her young cub. She’s repulsed at the idea of a mother letting her child follow her passion. But at the same time, circumstances led Rachel’s mom to where she is now. And she wouldn’t have Rachel – a strong, intelligent, independent woman – if she had not gone down that path.
That whole idea of not living up to your possible in-laws’ expectations is a fear I’m sure everyone goes through. But the film does have a bit of a disconnect through some of these characters’ lavish lifestyles.
Nearly all of these characters live a life of luxury where there are exotic cars, beautiful mansions, preposterous events to see a flower that only blooms once, and beautiful weddings. Bachelor parties are downright crazy, as Nick and his friend Colin (Chris Pang) fly through the air, to the music of an overture, where they land on a cargo ship full of party girls, loud music, and rocket launchers. For the bachelorette party, we see women fly to a private island where they treat themselves to an all-expenses-paid shopping spree and spy day. However, both parties reveal the uglier side of the rich and famous, where Nick defends Rachel, and Rachel has to endure the dirty gossip of Nick’s previous lovers – and some of their more heinous acts like leaving a dead fish on Rachel’s hotel bed with a murderous message written in blood to intimidate her.
Here we see some of the other wonderful characters at play. Awkwafina is a scene-stealing dream come true as Rachel’s best friend. While she may provide a lot of the comic relief, she also manages to drop a few nuggets of emotional support when the film gets heavy. And Gemma Chan is terrific as Astrid, one of Nick’s rich cousins who may have a wealthy lifestyle but is more humble and has a bigger heart than the rest of the snobby unlikable rich people in the film.
There are other fantastic layers to an otherwise lovely rom-com. The shots of Singapore take audiences to a world rarely seen in a mainstream film. Rachel comments on how the airport is so beautiful that it has a butterfly garden and a movie theater – very true by the way – and that JFK just has depression and hepatitis. There may be some great shots of landmarks, but it’s the shot of the food vendors that represent another side so rarely seen. There are chefs who are preparing succulent meals, all at an affordable price – again, very true. Some of the best Michelin star chefs are simple food vendors. And we cannot forget how there is beauty in simplicity.
All of that makes Crazy Rich Asians an important moment in filmmaking.