Crazy Rich Asians, 2018.
Directed by Jon M. Chu.
Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Remy Hii, Ronny Chieng, and Nico Santos.
This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.
Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians is crazy entertaining, richly developed and translates to blockbuster romanticism soaked in delicious, sparks-never-stop-flying opulence. A feast for the eyes and soul, so very representative and inviting. Chu’s direction electrifies high-class lifestyle pornography detailed in Kevin Kwan’s international bestseller without ever sacrificing core relationship drama. No matter your upbringing or culture, cinematic languages are universal but still true to heritage. Proof that you *can* jet-set into “foreign territory” and still appeal to the masses (waiting for the box office to back me up).
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding) live a textbook New York City romance. They’ve been dating about a year, and that’s when Nick drops a next-step bombshell. “Come to Singapore for my best friend’s wedding, be my plus one, meet my family.” Under the pretense that she’ll also see college bestie Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), Rachel agrees. Strange thing is, she knows nothing about Nick’s family until boarding their first-class flight that Nick describes as a “perk.” It’s here where Rachel learns Nick’s traditional family is “crazy rich” and self-made, overseen by matriarch Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh). Can she impress Nick’s stone-faced mother despite a rocky start? Will she survive the jealous hordes of wealthy heiresses at her throat? Love is a battlefield, as they say.
At one point, Rachel remarks how her “vacation” – aka the film – feels like an Asian soap opera where she’s trying to steal the Young fortune. And you know what? Crazy Rich Asians kinda does – but not in an oversold Telenovela kind of way. Chu is able to honor Kwan’s most eccentric characters, gaudiest makeover montages, and architectural wonders without renouncing Rachel’s very real, very emotional fight for Nick. Despite how supportive characters Oliver (Nico Santos) and Peik Lin are, Eleanor has zero issue with straight-up challenging Rachel by telling her she’ll *never* be good enough for Nick. OK, so maybe it’s a *little* Telenovela-y? Still, dramatic wallops sting rather than play shock entertainment. All the more fulfilling as Rachel’s fish-out-of-NYU floundering plays out.
Of the lavish million-dollar-madness Chu guarantees, Jimmy O. Yang’s single-child bachelor lives the “Crazy Rich Asian” moniker wildest. Picture this – Yang, shirtless, flocked by gorgeous women on both arms as he struts through a private airport hangar. He ushers bachelor party attendees into blue luxury helicopters. The title card “International Waters” flashes as groom-to-be Colin Khoo (Chris Pang) ponders where his stag getaway is headed. Yang’s dudebro points to a cargo freighter lined with shipping containers. The men exit their air transport to find Yang’s lothario has commissioned a floating nightclub complete with motorcycle displays, model-filled pools, stocked bars, and a grand stage. Cut to Yang standing between “Miss [x]” pageant contestants (winners?), firing a replica bazooka loaded with fireworks. Bottles poppin’ left and right. And for a change of pace? Nick flies Colin to an isolated tropical paradise bungalow for a few “quiet” beers where it looks like mermaids would frolic.
I describe the above because these are just mere minutes pulled from a 2-hour movie that never breaks “elitist” form. All the Eastern covers of Western pop songs (“Money (That’s What I Want)” to “Yellow”), million dollar roadsters and even more expensive jewelry studs. Descriptors like “Crazy” and “Rich” promise entire kingdoms that’d put Donald Trump’s most gold-encrusted bathrooms to shame and deliver double. Elegance, undying parties, and a spectacle you won’t stop talking about for weeks.
Yet, the most explosive fireworks are saved for lovers played by Constance Wu and Henry Golding. Wu an American-raised Chinese economics professor who “knows only her selfish” passions, Golding a son of Singapore royalty whose family-company destiny does not align with his future alongside Rachel. Their Romeo and Juliet lust is one that Cupid himself couldn’t bottle, played as well as such back-and-forth theatrics could possibly sell. Michelle Yeoh’s mother less a wicked witch than Singapore stalwart who Rachel first tries to impress then chooses to play “chicken” against (“Bok Bok, Bitch!”). Golding forced into an unthinkable choice, always drawn back to Wu’s independent, driven, empowered partner without Eleanor’s approval. Shove off, Fifty Shades Of Grey. Time for the crazy rich Asians to show how it’s done.
It’s within culture and experience that Chu takes advantage of his Asian-led cast, from practices to slang – to the point where as an outsider, a few in-jokes were undoubtedly missed. Full admission. That said, care is put into showings of respect and legacy. Delicious, mouth-watering attention paid to Singapore’s “Michelin rated” street markets or time spent cooking Ah Ma’s (Lisa Lu) famed dumplings as a family unit (don’t come hungry). These are hallmarks of any human story – fatherless Rachel experiencing what she’s missed while folding dough into pockets – but so very specific to Asian tradition. As an Italian, we’d do the same with ravioli. There’s never a moment where Crazy Rich Asians becomes too “shut-out” when it comes to non-Asian audiences, but Chu still remains true to the meaning such a trend-breaking release carries. The title is Crazy Rich Asians. Not a single word is forgotten.
Supporting roles are the kind of highfalutin, afterparty-happy showings of Hollywoodized rich and famous “normality.” Cousins Eddie (Ronny Chieng) and Alistair (Remy Hii), one a business suit snob who won’t take a picture unless in “optimal” position and the other a director addicted to his maybe-was-a-pornstar lead actress/girlfriend. Astrid (Gemma Chan), Nick’s sister, stashes daily shopping spree evidence under towels or behind bookcases so her husband doesn’t see. Peik Lin’s father Wye Mun (Ken Jeong) the unhinged Ken Jeong we love, Peik Lin herself a stay-at-home partier with a big mouth, “rainbow” outcast Oliver (Nico Santos) the golden standard of sassy fashion guru – characters we adore, want to punch, but engage with no matter the case. Even Peik Lin’s silent brother makes the most of minimal screen time thanks to his shameless picture-snapping habit. A film so bursting with vitality across the board.
In a time when the best rom-coms or rom-drams seem to be of the indie variety, Hollywood’s game has changed. Crazy Rich Asians is a celebration of love, sumptuous extravagance and representation in cinema that so many deserve to see. Every scene may not be tailored to “general” audiences, but that’s what makes Jon M. Chu’s repeat showstopper even more impressive. Implications and importance aside, expect nothing less than an outrageous yet heartfelt delve into starcrossed immersion that sparkles, ignites and burns an undying flame hot enough to scorch the competition. Implications and importance considered? You’re hard-pressed to find a better 2018 case for inclusivity in cinema. Franchise treatment, please!
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★★★★ / Movie: ★★★★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram (@DoNatoBomb).