‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a believable look into the world of the wealthy

This review contains minor spoilers.

 

You’re in a private helicopter for a bachelor’s party. You’ve got no idea where you guys are headed, you start regretting letting your riot of a cousin organize. You think of the worst and then you finally see it in the open seas: a huge party barge, one that could rival a luxury cruise, full of glammed up container vans and flashing lights. There are ladies, booze, and a bazooka. It’s absolute mayhem with all the LED screens, gold confetti, and smoke machines. This isn’t a music video. This isn’t fantasy. This is real life for the crazy rich Asian.

But before anything, let’s get this out of the way: Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians is not representative of all Asian culture. Not that it claims to be — the first two words of the title should be enough explanation, though it’s the main criticism of Twitter folk. Other Asian cultures, particularly Malay and Indian, only appear as help to the crazy, rich Chinese Singaporeans — a social hierarchy so present in the film, yet so misguided given Singapore’s history. While this is a valid point and hopefully one that gets addressed in the sequels, Crazy Rich Asians is undoubtedly shaping up to be an overture, one step to the renaissance of seeing more diverse stories on the silver screen.

 

Crazy Rich Asians is undoubtedly shaping up to be an overture, one step to the renaissance of seeing more diverse stories on the silver screen.



Crazy Rich Asians is mostly about the not just rich, but the crazy, crazy rich. Those rich enough to own private acres of land in Singapore, rich enough to buy $1.5M earrings without blinking. The kind of rich that when met with racial discrimination in a London hotel, they buy the whole thing (all actual stuff from the movie, by the way). At the center of it all are Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding), who introduces the former to his crazy rich family in Singapore. We’ve seen enough Asian television to know what happens next, but nerve-wracking future mother-in-law and all, it manages to give a fresh take on the genre.

As the character most of the audiences can resonate with, Constance Wu’s performance as Rachel Chu is nothing short of sublime. Her Rachel is unapologetically smart and headstrong, with a certain tenderness that makes you understand why Nick fell in love with her. This is a woman sure of her capabilities. In an incredibly poignant mahjong scene, Wu shows the quiet strength and intellect of Rachel. When she walks out of the mahjong parlor, you admire this woman even more.

 

It may be the same formula, but it gives it new life, thanks to all the nods to Asian culture which we rarely see on the international big screen, from the aforementioned mahjong scene to families making dumplings together to the bustling street food scene in Singapore.

 

All in all, it’s the actresses that make this movie: the incomparable Michelle Yeoh as steely Eleanor Young, the nuanced performance of Gemma Chan as heiress Astrid, and the scene-stealing Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend, Peik Lin. In case you were wondering, Princess Intan (Kris Aquino) does quite well too. The triumph of this all-Asian casting aside, the film safely plays within the Hollywood romantic comedy genre. It may be the same formula, but it gives it new life, thanks to all the nods to Asian culture which we rarely see on the international big screen, from the aforementioned mahjong scene to families making dumplings together to the bustling street food scene in Singapore.

The movie’s soundtrack deserves its own special mention. The movie opens with an art deco OBB complete with a glitzy old Hollywood big band sound (but with Chinese lyrics), a sound they keep using for scenes to show the grandeur of the Singaporean elite. Interspersed with these songs are acoustic tracks for that good ‘ol romcom heart tug, like Kina Grannis singing Can’t Help Falling In Love when bride Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizuno) walks down the aisle. Arguably the most moving track is the Chinese cover of Coldplay’s Yellow sung by Katherine Ho. Hearing it moved me to tears.

 

No fleeing a village or kung fu here, only a film that will keep you smiling, crying, and gaping until the end.

 

With witty one-liners and glorious performances, Crazy Rich Asians is a believable foray into the glamorous and dramatic world of the wealthy. It shows enough excess without giving up authenticity of the heritage the story’s set in. While not as grand as described in the Kevin Kwan novel it was based on, this adaptation is grounded and self-assured in its Asian story. No fleeing a village or kung fu here, only a film that will keep you smiling, crying, and gaping until the end.

It’s been 25 years since The Joy Luck Club premiered, the last Hollywood feature film with a contemporary Asian story and an all-Asian cast. It took 25 years for a studio to gamble, two decades to realize that there is a need for diversity. There are many reasons why you should watch Crazy Rich Asians but I guess this is the best one: this isn’t a music video. This isn’t fantasy. This is real — we can finally see ourselves on the big screen.

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