As we head into awards season with the Venice Film Festival kicking off on August 29, Crazy Rich Asians arrives as a tasty appetizer for the feast that lies ahead. I was asked the other day whether this film will win any awards. Maybe it will show up at the Golden Globes in the Comedy categories. Or maybe it will get a Best Popular Film nomination. I can’t recall the last time I laughed so hard at a movie; and then I cried just as hard. It’s a delight to see Asians portrayed in a way we seldom get to see onscreen — wealthy, well-educated, intelligent, posh, and spoiled rotten.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s international bestseller, Crazy Rich Asians is the first of the trilogy of books from the author. Fresh Off The Boat’s Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, a New York economics professor who is dating fellow professor Nick Young (Henry Golding). Unknown to her, Young’s family is so obscenely rich that he can’t even put a number on how much his family is worth. His cousin Astrid owns a few hotels and condominiums and his mother, Eleanor buys a hotel in the first minutes of the film after the British receptionist rudely turns her and her family away. That’s the sort of wealth we’re talking here.
It’s one hell of a trip, from Michelle Yeoh’s rain-drenched entrance to the grande exit. Rachel who is an ABC (American Born Chinese) accompanies Nick to meet the family when he goes home for his best friend’s wedding. They fly first class to Singapore to take the lamb to slaughter. It’s always nerve-wracking to meet your other half’s family and parents, Rachel feels confident Eleanor Young will like her, and why wouldn’t she, right? Wrong. Eleanor is a fearsome tigeress, a dragon mother who holds Bible study classes in her larger than large mansion. She has given up a career of her own to devote herself as the perfect wife and mother for the sake of her family. She puts her family first, as she feels all Asian women should. “All Americans think about is their own happiness,” she tells Rachel. Clearly, Eleanor isn’t ready to to accept Rachel that easily, especially as she believes Rachel is responsible for her son’s resistance to move back to Singapore. Yes, Nick will have to choose between his love for Rachel or putting his family and heritage first.
Gemma Chan’s Astrid is the glamorous Young cousin whose husband is cheating on her. She finds herself bonding with Rachel. This is a romantic comedy and there’s plenty of both. I’ll leave it at that with the plot details. Yes, if you know the tropes of the genre or you’ve read the book, you’ll know how everything pan out, but there are plenty of witty twists and turns along the way.
As an adaptation, fans of the book will love how faithfully the film brings their beloved crazy characters to life. As Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s sympathetic best friend and refuge from the madness, Awkwafina provides a bridge of insight and much of the comic relief, as she helps innocent Rachel navigate through the opulence and turbulence of Singaporean family melodrama. Nico Santos plays Oliver, “the rainbow sheep of the family,” who knows all the gossip and welcomes Rachel to Singapore as only a gay fashion lover can.
Speaking of fashion design, Mary Vogt’s costumes are wildly stylish, vibrant, richly colorful and extravagant. Eleanor and Astrid Young represent the pinnacle of style and class Off-the-rack logos are banished from their outfits, they represent the epitome of high-society glamour. Rachel’s attire evolves as that of a modern-day Cinderella. Shedding her sensible business tailoring upon arrival in Singapore she starts wearing more daring color and cuts, culminating when the princess attends the ball in the perfect gown.
Being Asian-American (OK, I’m British, but I live here now and so that’s my new label), I’m acutely aware of the significance of a film like this. My mother was of Filipino descent and I’m here to embrace this story with open arms. You might think I would be predisposed to love it, but it goes beyond that. Crazy Rich Asians is the romantic comedy that I never expected to see so it took me by surprise to discover how much I subconsciously yearned for it. Growing up, my ideals of rom-com leading ladies were Julia Roberts, Meg Ryan, Melanie Griffith and other such actresses of the ’80s. But it’s 2018, and I now have Constance Wu to admire, to revel in her memorable performance. It’s a lark to see Asian characters be as decadent and rich as anyone else in the 0.1% and cast in a genre where we rarely have a chance to see them shine. I hope this will herald more changes to come. Even if it’s been a long wait, it’s a great start.
During this exciting time of ever-expanding diversity, when identity and representation are among the hottest topics of conversation in Hollywood, Crazy Rich Asians embodies the delightful fruits of that movement. It’s thoroughly wonderful, splendidly charming, and it’s my pleasure to report that Jon M. Chu has delivered the perfect romantic story with an all-amazing Asian cast.
Go see Crazy Rich Asians because it’s crazy entertaining, it’s funny, it’s sentimental weepy, and it stands as an important signpost marking new territory for Asian opportunities in Hollywood. Chu’s film will make you want to book a flight to an Asia destination. God, I had almost forgotten how much missed it — the food markets of Singapore, Changi Airport (one of my favorites in the world), the lush islands, and all the sophisticated vibrancy of Asia at the forefront of the future that Chu captures so beautifully. Even the Mahjong scene between Eleanor and Rachel made me feel sentimental. Maybe that’s why I ugly cried throughout. So take my heartfelt advice, grab your best friends, check out the ultimate feel-good film of 2018!
Crazy Rich Asians is released on August 15