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Movie Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ lifts the rom-com genre with a high caliber all-Asian cast

An effervescent breath of fresh cinematic air, this ridiculously entertaining film succeeds as an instant cultural touchstone and a reaffirmation of the joy of romantic comedies.

As it’s the first Hollywood studio picture with a cast of Asian leads since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, Warner Bros. studio was determined to have it shown on the big screen. And this courageous decision, backed by a well-financed marketing campaign, has paid off. The film opened in the North American box office’s top spot last week and there’s no reason at all why it shouldn’t be a hit in the rest of the world.

Michelle Yeoh, Constance Wu, and Henry Golding in “Crazy Rich Asians” 2018 film.


The inclusion of an all-Asian cast of such caliber is reason enough to watch, but not the only one. Crazy Rich Asians upholds tried tropes in a genre that studios have almost entirely reserved for white protagonist throughout history. Today, as the demands for representation are no longer just rhetoric but visibly affecting profitability, a project like this is a vigorous statement in the right direction. Not only does it fulfill its need to be engaging and cinematically enticing for general audiences, but retains enough cultural specificity to honor its storytellers. Jon M. Chu’s trajectory as a filmmaker with several commercial undertakings – some more triumphant than others – positioned him as an exemplary candidate to helm this landmark production and he nailed it.

Chu’s direction displays a robust regard for the combined power of glamour and velocity. The pace is breathless and the tone irreverent, starting with a witty montage sending up the telegraphic capacities of social media.

Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestseller, the film is a fantasy tour of Singaporean high society. Though screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim take some narrative departures to make the story tighter, the movie follows the book’s story quite religiously.

“Fresh Off The Boat” star Constance Wu headlines the Hollywood adaptation of “Crazy Rich Asians.”

Rachel Chu (fetching Constance Wu of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat), a young economics professor at New York University who has never been east of Queens, takes her first trip to Asia as she accompanies her boyfriend back to his home, where he’ll serve as best man at a friend’s wedding.

Despite her expertise in finance, she has never detected that modest, adorable Nick Young (Henry Golding in his movie debut) has been concealing an important fact from her: His family is 12 times richer than God. Once inside his extravagant Pacific Rim never-never land of high fashion, spoiled socialites, debauched scions and marriage-threatening scandals, Nick’s sincere devotion may come at a cost Rachel can’t afford.

Emerging as a major star soon to be walking red carpets on a global scale, the enchanting Constance Wu imbues Rachel with strength derived from the character’s upbringing as the child of a poor Chinese immigrant and the American promise of success through hard work. There is no arrogance or judgment in her assessment of the more conservative and family-oriented worldview she is discovering, even when this reveals itself to also be unabashedly materialistic and fueled by appearances.

The casting of Lisa Lu as the film’s elderly matriarch plays as a touching homage to The Joy Luck Club.

Through Rachel, Crazy Rich Asians aims to bridge the gap between Asians living on the continent and the Diaspora, between those born into fortunes and the ones who struggled for success, and between ancient conventions and capitalist philosophies. Nick and Rachel’s union is a symbolic vehicle to reflect on the essential attributes of each realm. Opulence can be deceiving that much is clear, and beneath its shimmering surface the bigger questions hide.

But the film’s strongest selling point isn’t that, or its dressed-to-kill costuming or its use of chic locations and appetite-exciting food porn. Its benefit is filtering all those elements through an old Capulets-and-Montagues story line and creating a deft, intelligent charmer as irresistibly fizzy as the champagne its characters quaff round-the-clock. It gives romance the royal treatment.

Awkwafina, left, and Constance Wu star in the hit rom-com film.

Brimming with memorable supporting players, there is humor galore to lighten the plot’s romantic and intellectual discourses. Scene-stealer Awkwafina offers sound, yet uproarious life and fashion advice as Rachel’s local friend Goh Peik Lin. Her screen time is limited but sharply utilized. “Supertore’s” Filipino-American actor Nico Santos embodies Nick’s cheeky cousin Oliver — the Young’s self-proclaimed rainbow sheep — who constantly appeases the elders’ preoccupations while siding with Rachel. Shinning as the unwavering matriarch, the legendary Lisa Lu delivers her precisely written lines with authority that commands instant respect.

Gemma Chan plays complicated heiress with troubled marriage in Crazy Rich Asians.

One unrealized subplot involves Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her husband, an outsider like Rachel, having marital difficulties related to his insecurities. We understand this storyline is there to exemplify how a marriage between people from distinct circles could be destructive, even if it’s not sufficiently compelling.

A lot of contriving goes into the feel-good ending, which is not nearly credible enough to convince you that the prevailing state of communal bliss is going to extend past the end credits, but this isn’t a film with an instructive moral message to impart. The pleasure lies in the zest it displays in defining and hitting its targets. Broad it may be, but judging from the laughter I heard, its inside jokes work, too.

Crazy Rich Asians mania (and the dashing Asian princeling that is Henry Golding) has taken the world by storm.

Crazy Rich Asians is more than a little basic in its plotting sometimes. Rachel has to face off with jealous exes and backbiting mean girls, all for the ultimate prize of a big honking wedding ring — but that’s the kind of soapy fun that usually gets confined to television these days. As a director, Chu has enough experience with opulence to really blow out the film’s glitzy world on the big screen. It’s precisely that embrace of all things lush and unsubtle that makes Crazy Rich Asians such a great time at the theater.

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