In the wake of a minor revolution in Hollywood, female representation seems to be booming on film, and diversity in casting is becoming more and more common. It seems only natural that a film like 'Crazy Rich Asians' should flourish in that environment - but with a lot riding on its success as proof of concept, can it entertain as well as push the industry's boundaries?
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, TV’s ‘Fresh off the Boat’) is an American-Chinese economics professor in New York, and dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) for a year when he invites her back to his family’s home in Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. Nick’s always been extremely tight-lipped about his family - so it’s a huge shock that the Young family are essentially Singaporean royalty, and they’re crazy rich. After meeting Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, 'Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2', 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon'), it’s clear to the couple she’s adverse to Nick’s choice in girlfriend - but can Rachel change her mind with so many scheming family members and friends trying to bring her down?
There are two very, very important points to make about this film: 1) this is one of the most attractive casts you will ever see together on screen, and 2) it’s a whole lot of fun, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty classic romcom. Sure, there isn’t a white cast member to be seen - and trust me, the film’s no worse for it - and it’s a little more elaborate than the usual boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, boy and girl overcome hurdle, boy and girl live happily ever after. There are a few cultural hurdles to overcome - namely, the close-knit, overly protective and inevitably meddling family, but there’s also a lot of oh-so-true references to the speed at which gossip travels in Asian circles, as well as clichés about the stinginess of rich people. But strip away all of the garishly shiny gold exterior, and the scaffolding is a tried-and-true romantic comedy formula.
Which is not to say that it’s not an enjoyable experience, and you can tell that the cast had a lot of fun making it, from the key players to the immense and brilliant supporting cast. As always, Constance Wu is a delight to watch - her natural style and charismatic personality make her an excellent choice for the lead of this film. Quite possibly the most hilarious moments of the film come in the scenes between her and Awkwafina ('Bad Neighbours 2', 'Ocean's 8'), who plays Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin - and for that matter, any interactions with her family, including Ken Jeong ('The Hangover' franchise, TV's 'Community') and Chieng Mun Koh.
Henry Golding also seems to be making a splash in Hollywood at the moment (I mean, just look at him, it’s no real surprise), and he plays well against Chu as the filthy rich but down-to-earth boyfriend. They have a believable chemistry, and come the end of the film, you’ll definitely be rooting for them to be together. On the other end of the spectrum is Michelle Yeoh as Nick’s mum, who delivers almost entirely unveiled barbs of spitefulness towards Rachel throughout the entirety of the film. People in my screening were audibly gasping and sighing at some of the vicious comments that came from the maternal monster.
As always, Constance Wu is a delight to watch - her natural style and charismatic personality make her an excellent choice for the lead of this film. Quite possibly the most hilarious moments of the film come in the scenes between her and Awkwafina.
For a relatively low-budget film for Hollywood - roughly around just $20 million - director Jon M. Chu (‘Now You See Me 2’, ‘G.I. Joe: Retaliation’, ‘Step Up 2’ & ‘3D’) and his cinematographer Vanja Cernjul certainly make the film look a million bucks. There are lavish parties in sprawling estates, probably the most ludicrous bachelor and hen’s parties you’ve ever seen, numerous grand fireworks displays and, of course, the completely over-the-top wedding. But this is also interspersed with humbler city and street scenes, giving a glimpse at the real Singapore.
What will be interesting is how this film is received around the world. Much like ‘Love, Simon’, which was Hollywood’s first big-budget endeavour into queer film, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is arguably the first non-white Hollywood movie. While its title promises to portray Asia as a whole, the film itself is essentially isolated to Singaporean and Chinese culture. Nonetheless, as far as diverse representation goes, this is a huge step forward for Hollywood, and should perform well in the all-vital Chinese market.
I truly hope this film does well at the box office, because it deserves to. It’s a huge amount of fun, with a beautiful and talented cast. I laughed, I (yes, I admit it) cried, and I left having enjoyed my time in the cinema. Granted, two hours is a little bit of a stretch for a romcom, but that’s the only real criticism I can offer up for the film. ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a light-hearted, amusing and witty outing, with a enough emotion to bring out the romantic in you - you’d be hard-pressed not to fall in love with it too.