Movie Review

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) by Jon M. Chu

Original Name: Crazy Rich Asians

Director: Jon M. Chu

Runtime: 121 minutes

Language: English

IMDB Link:

Crazy Rich Asian, a prequel to The Royal Wedding… of sort.

It’s easy to see why Crazy Rich Asians captures the mainstream taste. It’s the first Hollywood exclusively Asian-American cast since The Joy Luck Club back in 1993. It has a fairytalish premise about a girl who finds out that her boyfriend is… insanely rich. It has a heartwarming romcom tale that embrace the genre’s best tricks, it has a decent drama about girl’s power and finally, the creators love its Asian heritage so that despite Crazy Rich Asian isn’t necessary a realistic take on Asian culture, it still gets away with it. The first ingredient for its success, which also the film’s best selling point, is its depiction of Asian culture. It’s decidedly over-the-top with many insanely gorgeous (and at one point, outrageous) parties after the next, but it delivers because under the flashy fabric, there’s an understanding of the cultural specificity it depicts. Characters switches from English to Chinese to Malay terms with ease; the foods are Singaporean flavor and the earlier part where the news of Nick (Henry Golding) brings his girlfriend Rachel (Constance Wu) home for the wedding spreading out within seconds is smartly and humorously conveyed, while at the same time informs you about the Singaporean social attitude.

This flashy presentation of this crazy rich lives proves to be a golden opportunity for the film to go wild on set decorating and costume designing. The sets are glorious and stunning like the wedding sequence or Henry’s house party. Rachel and the cast have a chance to wear many pretty dresses. Many Singaporean most iconic sights are portrayed in an captivating light. There’s no shortage of striking art decoration here, which does it job at sweeping us away with grand and elegant lifestyle of one of the most influential family in Chinese-speaking region. One negative outcome that could spring from it, however, is that it can creates a trend of over-the-top luxury vision of rich Asians archetype from those copycats that understand next to nothing to its culture (but let’s just worry about that when it comes).

But in spite of this Asian picture, what makes Crazy Rich Asians so relatable and universal appeal is its rom-com at its core. While the conventional beat is still pretty much by-the-book (girl gets boy, girl loses boy and the likes), the lines are delivered with emotional weight. This is where both the relationship between Rachel and Nick and Rachel’s issue have to sell us and yes, it succeeds on those. Take our main character Rachel, she’s a smart, likeable heroine that we all love to root for. She has an identifiable issue that keeps escalating until it goes beyond her grasp. At every moment we can see clearly the hazards she faces and at every moment we see how she’s struggle to overcome those, sometimes with the support of Nick and sometimes entirely by herself. It helps that we can relate to Nick and Rachel’s relationship. All the arguments the cast brings up make sense (like how Nick never tells her before about his rich bloodline). The film does sacrifice some of Nick’s characteristic for Rachel’s development, making him more as a too-perfect, rich boyfriend than come out as a multidimensional character. Ut’s the cost I totally get behind because the film gives a necessary space for our heroine Rachel to shine to her full potential.

And shine she was luminously. During the course of the film she is reminded constantly on the different perspective between her and Nick’s family, especially his mother Eleanor (legendary actress Michelle Yeoh), on how being an Asian is still not good enough if she’s born overseas, and most notably on how being just herself isn’t good enough to be a wife of this “money is power” family. Raised by a single mom, Rachel is then being tested between her love for Nick and the pressure to fit as a “Nick’s perfect girlfriend” role. “Nick is unreachable, but you are, that’s why people finds way to bring you down”, said by her best friend Goh Peik Lin (scene-stealer Awkwafina). At its most relevant, Crazy Rich Asian focuses on women’s struggle into their domestic, supporting roles and their own career, While the boys have fair share of good scenes, it’s the women cast who drives the narrative.Wu embraces the role with so much grace, every nuance in her expression is on point and every important lines she delivers with power. It’s certainly a career-turning role for Wu, and she pretty much deserves the praise she got for this performance.

The entire cast is no faux, either. Yeoh brings much depth into her villainous character, revealing many of her vulnerable side that sheds her in a sympathetical light. Other characters work mostly as a comedic relief but many of them leave their marks boldly here. Awkwafina delivers in almost every scene she’s there, the same goes for second-cousin Oliver (Nico Santos). Gemma Chan who plays Nick’s cousin Astrid, on the other hand, remains ineffective with her stiff acting and a somewhat awkward and underdeveloped side-plot. In addition, in some cases the film has a tendency to rely much on cheap gags and well-roden tropes that it becomes quite messy and not everything comes well together. In one glaring example, Ken Jeong’s character speaks a Cantonese-heavy accent before dropping the act and stated that he studied in the State. It’s the gag that almost backfires on its intention because it isn’t funny to begin with and it has no point to prove. Like I said, Crazy Rich Asian isn’t necessary an accurate portrayal of Asian culture, but it understands the core mindset of the continent, while at the same time resonates to Western sensibility. Not a bad combination at the end of the day.

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