I have to say, when I saw the trailers for Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians (based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name), I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The first time I see any given trailer, I tend to take in more of the overall tone and atmosphere than anything else and, from my perspective, the marketing really emphasized glitz and glamour, giving little insight into the heart of the film – if there was to be any heart to it, at all. I was a little nervous that the film would be nothing but the glorification of rich people behaving badly. The reviews came out and I felt quite a bit better. I still had little idea regarding the film’s narrative but, by that point, it was a conscious choice, as I wanted to go in as fresh as possible. I’m glad I did that and I’m even more glad that my initial impression of the film was entirely incorrect.
Aside from the creative virtues of the film, it also stands tall as a benchmark for Asian cinema, featuring an almost exclusively Asian cast and crew. Pardon my ignorance, as I have the privilege of not having to deal with such things, but in some circles, there has apparently been a long-standing belief that Asian actors can’t be Hollywood leading men or ladies. I was first made aware of this notion just a handful of years ago and it struck me as being beyond comprehension. I couldn’t quite grasp why anyone would come to that conclusion – especially since it had hardly been tried, giving these detractors little to no anecdotal evidence. Well, though it unfortunately took me over a week to catch this movie due to a crazy schedule, the benefit is that I can now look back on the last two weekends at the box office and state clearly that this Asian cast and crew are being wholeheartedly embraced by audiences – and with good reason.
In the film, Rachel (Constance Wu) is invited to Singapore by her boyfriend Nick to attend his best friend’s wedding. This trip also serve as Rachel’s introduction to Nick’s family who, unknown to Rachel, are exorbitantly rich. But they are also fiercely traditional and don’t take kind to anyone they consider to be an outsider. And, being raised in New York, Rachel quickly realizes she has an uphill battle to fight if she’s going to be fully accepted by them and eventually have her own wedding to Nick.
While nobody is pushed to their limits, the cast is tremendous and should expect many other opportunities to come their way as a result of their exposure in this film. As Rachel, Constance Wu is irresistibly lovable and endearing. Rachel is practically every mother’s dream daughter-in-law, making the refusal of Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) to accept her all the more maddening and, therefore, making Eleanor that much more vile. An entire generation will always know and remember Yeoh as Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. And, now, a whole new generation will forever identify her as the villainous Eleanor from Crazy Rich Asians.
The other standout is, once again, Awkwafina. I say “once again” because this is the second time in 2018 that Awkwafina has given a scene-stealing performance. To be honest, there is probably a subset of viewers out there who will find her performance as Rachel’s friend Peik to be grating (much in the same way that I find Tiffany Haddish). But most will get a kick out her (her comedic timing is perfect). Even though the film is marketed as a romantic comedy, it mostly plays the comedy aspect safely, until Peik and her family (including a brief, but funny performance by her on-screen dad Ken Jeong) get involved. Then, all bets are off and the humor delivers.
If I have one complaint, it’s that the film relies a bit too heavily on a couple of tired Hollywood clichés. Not many, but one in particular that the film employs is especially overused by Hollywood to the point that is has been fodder for spoofs and parodies for years, now. But, ultimately, the film has so much good to offer that that one negative – even if it’s a bit intrusive and wouldn’t have been that hard to write around – isn’t enough to drag it down by any significant measure. From the cosmetic (the Singapore scenery is gorgeous) to the subtextual (the film sends the wonderful message that those who live true should not succumb to those who live a lie), Crazy Rich Asians has something for everyone who loves thoughtful, entertaining cinema.
Crazy Rich Asians is one of those movies that transcends the screen and becomes something bigger and more meaningful than simple entertainment. I enjoyed the film immensely, but there are many, many others who will outright cherish it in the way that I do Infinity War and Jurassic Park. From being a long-awaited (and -deserved) breakthrough for Asians in Hollywood to speaking directly to anyone who feels like they don’t belong in their own family to sparking ideas for wedding ceremonies (expect to see a lot of “Crazy Rich Asians” weddings in the very near future), this film will have a long-standing impact on people all over the world, sure to become one of those movies that people stop to watch whenever it’s on television. I’m thrilled that it’s such an old-school hit and I hope it makes significantly more money in the weeks (and maybe months?) to come because, in my mind, the Asians responsible for it deserve to be crazy rich. And audiences deserve more movies like this one.
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