Crazy Rich Asians | Jon M. Chu | August 15, 2018
Crazy Rich Asians is directed by Jon M. Chu based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name that screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim adapted for the big screen. This film holds more weight than your typical flashy rom-com full of beautiful people. It’s the first film from a major Hollywood studio to feature a majority Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.
Knowing Hollywood, this is no surprise but still a pretty shocking thing to process. Which only put some pressure on the cast and crew to make the best movie possible as all this talk of inclusion and diversity is great and truly important but it can only do so much if the film isn’t good enough to back it all up. Thankfully, Chu and company have knocked it out of the park, making one of the best romantic comedies in recent memory.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor at NYU who is in the midst of a loving relationship with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). She doesn’t know it yet, but things will change drastically for their relationship when he invites her to the wedding of his best friend Colin (Chris Pang). You see, unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick Young is a big deal in Singapore. She gets her first taste of this when they arrive at the airport and they get hurried away to first class where Rachel believes there’s been some serious misunderstanding. But the truth is that Nick’s family are wealthy real estate developers, the sort of wealth that has made them celebrities in the region of almost a Kardashian level.
Meeting your loved one’s family is always a nerve-racking experience, but it’s made that much worse by the level of status of Nick’s family. Her fears are lowered for a bit when she meets Colin and his bride-to-be Araminta (Ex Machina & Annihilation‘s Sonoya Mizuno), who give them a warm welcome and a night out on the town, shot in lavishing fashion by Chu and cinematographer Vanja Cernjul that is truly eye candy of the highest order.
It’s when Rachel is invited to a lavish dinner at Nick grandmother’s house that she gets a harsh reality check of just how out of her depth she really is. Even with a few clumsy mistakes, she makes a pretty good impression on most of the party, including Nick’s grandmother (Lisa Lu) and sister Astrid (Gemma Chan), who is going through a tough time with her husband Michael (Pierre Png) and finds a level of relatability with Rachael and they soon strike up a good friendship.
But she receives a cold welcome from Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who clearly isn’t impressed with her in any way. This is a clear hurdle for both of them to overcome and along with some scoffing from some of Nick’s bitter ex-lovers who can’t understand how some average American could have caught his eye.
What’s so refreshing to see as an Asian-American myself is the distinction that the film makes between this idea of true Asians (the Young family in Singapore) and Asian-Americans who are really seen as strictly Americans, as Rachel is by the Young family. There are so many little details captured with so much truth and authenticity that are refreshing to see here. Not to mention that for the first time in many years you have an all Asian cast just being themselves, looking good, and playing these extravagant roles with confidence, instead of the stereotypical roles that Hollywood has forced them into for so long.
Again, this only goes so far if the film works. Credit to Chu and the writing team for putting together such an entertaining film that revels in the way it does. It’s well-paced and funny, but comes loaded with a story full of characters that you genuinely connect to and care about; this results in a surprisingly emotional finale even though you may see it all coming a mile away.
There’s no denying that Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a new take on this familiar genre. It’s not reinventing the wheel at all. But the new perspective, its winning cast – including a hysterical performance from Awkwafina (also seen in this summer’s Ocean’s 8) as Rachel’s friend Goh – and the eye-popping locations and set-pieces that all add up to a great time at a theater that leaves room for a more than likely sequel, as there are two more novels in Kwan’s trilogy.
Crazy Rich Asians is a prime example of a movie knowing what it is, finding a way to insert its own DNA, and hitting it way out of the park.