A Crazy Refreshing Rom-Com
DIRECTED BY JON M. CHU/2018
Kevin Kwan’s popular novel leaps from the pages to the silver screen in Jon M. Chu’s film (Now You See Me 2) about love, culture, friends, and family, all set against the beautiful backdrop of Singapore. Written by Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal) and Adele Lim, Crazy Rich Asians is a fun, and beautifully shot romantic comedy that may check many of the standard boxes for a film in this genre, while avoiding all of the usual traps. The result is a refreshing comedy that isn’t afraid to use cultural differences to demonstrate that in the end, no matter one’s background, our experiences are much the same. Especially as it relates to family, friends, and romantic love.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an Economics professor, who specializes in gaming theory, especially how one begins to shut down the higher the stakes. She was raised by a single mom in America, after immigrating from China. Rachel may look Chinese on the outside, but everything about her is thoroughly American (which is pointed out to her later). Despite this, she still thinks that she is the quintessential Chinese girl remarking, “I’m so Chinese, I’m an Econ professor who’s lactose intolerant”. She prides herself in working hard to accomplish so much, especially given her mother’s financial struggle to raise her. She is a self-made woman who is smart, but lots of fun. She loves to laugh and be with friends. She also is extremely in love with a real down to earth kind of guy named Nick Young (Henry Golding- The Bachelorette). He plays basketball at the local YMCA, is frugal with his money, and despite his posh British accent, there is nothing to suggest that he is anything more than just a great, local, every-man.
When he invites her to come with him to Singapore to attend the wedding of his best friend, Rachel finds out that she will have the chance to meet Nick’s family. What she doesn’t know, however, is that Nick isn’t exactly the financially struggling, normal guy she thinks she’s been dating. He is, instead, the most sought after bachelor in all of Asia, and that his family’s wealth is off of the charts. Before she has even fully committed to going, word has already spread that Nick is coming home with a mystery girl, after some girls from Singapore snap pictures of Nick and Rachel at a restaurant in New York when they recognize him and send it through social media globally. Rachel, however, is clueless, that is, until they arrive. She is excited to see her old college friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina-Oceans 8), who in addition to taking her out for a fun time in Singapore, becomes her guide into helping her understand just what she is getting herself into.
When she arrives in Singapore, Rachel finds out that she is going to have to figure out if she is tough enough to take on every jealous single woman who is aiming to land Nick as their husband. More importantly, she will have to overcome Nick’s overprotective and pretentious mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh- Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Tomorrow Never Dies), who doesn’t think Rachel comes from the right social class to deserve her son. As a professor who has studied how people react when the pressure is high and the stakes are even higher, she is about to find out if she truly knows what she is talking about, as Nick’s mother and her continent of competition has declared “Game on”, with it being open season on Rachel.
Crazy Rich Asians leans hard into the typical Western stereotypes, with even the title of the novel-now-film being a means of prodding a largely western audience. By doing so, it disarms the stereotypes, even if it uses it for some laughs, and instead immediately uses such humor to eliminate any pre-conceived cultural barriers that exist. This allows it to creates a universal story that everyone will relate to. Western audiences aren’t the only ones with stereotypes. Eastern audiences will see much being reflected back at their cultural norms of class, status, and family structure, being taken equally to task for the ways in which it fails to lift up all in their society. It also affirms what is praiseworthy, as well. The fact that it is being done with humor, and a romantic story-line makes it easily digestible, but in some ways makes it all the more effective in tearing down cultural barriers on both sides.
Michelle Yeoh is formidable as Nick’s mother. It is amazing to see what lengths she and all of the jealous women in Nick’s life are able to go to, due to their shear amount of wealth, to sink any chance Rachel has of making it through this trip with her and Nick’s relationship intact. Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Community) has a lot of fun in his role as the eccentric father of Rachel’s college friend, and Awkwafina emerges from this with a potential breakout role.
What stood out, though, was how empowering this film is to its female characters, and not always in a way that we usually see. There are different ways to demonstrate strength, and we see it across the board in this film. From the characters who have to simply stand strong under adverse pressure, like Rachel, to the other end of the spectrum where women are the movers and shakers, making things happen, like Eleanor, women are front and center of it all which is refreshing and needed in more scripts. This is especially true as this film deals with the issues of class, status, wealth, and privilege.
Crazy Rich Asians is also a film that is being heralded as important due to the fact that is being financed by western companies, but also being a film that features an entire Asian cast. This is significant, it is great, and it is needed. The success of Crazy Rich Asians will further demonstrate that we are moving forward as a society, and hopefully as lovers of cinema, in that the cultural makeup of the cast will finally be seen to having little to do with a film’s financial success. What should matter is story, and a great cast and crew to tell that story effectively. Too often casting has favored white and westernized, and Crazy Rich Asians shows that a good story, the right talent, and a strong directorial vision can transcend any barrier that we might put up as an audience as we watch a film. Instead, we will see that as we are taken in by a funny and effective story, we won’t care what the ethnic make up of the cast is. Instead we will have a blast being moved to laughter and love by a romantic comedy that feels anything but typical. Or Crazy. Or even Asian. The only thing we will see is that Crazy Rich Asians is simply a fun time at the movies.