ALEXIS CRUZ WRITES — Over the past year there has been an influx of films featuring minority actors and themes. Black Panther continues to rake in money, and Pixar’s Coco (2017) won Best Animated Feature at the 2018 Oscars. This month, we have Crazy Rich Asians, based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same title. What’s more, it is the first American film with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.
Crazy Rich Asians is a rom-com starring TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat” star Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American professor teaching game theory at New York University. The story hits its stride when Singaporean boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) invites her to fly to Singapore to meet his family. Like every good romantic comedy, this is a fish-out-of-water story: Young’s family in Singapore, unlike Chu’s small, Asian American household, is monstrously rich. Like, they’re crazy rich Asians.
Thus, the romantic leads come from polar opposite backgrounds but still manage to fall in love. They have some cinematic similarities, though: each has outlandish friends who provide comic relief: Nick’s crazy rich friend, Oliver (Jimmy Yang), who shoots rocket launchers out of boats for fun, or Rachel’s college roommate from Singapore (Awkwafina) who helps Rachel adjust to the lavish lifestyle. Each needs to overcome an obstacle. Rachel needs to earn Nick’s mom, Eleanor’s (Michelle Yeoh) approval, while Eleanor struggles to get along with her. And of course, the romance comes to a grand, happy ending that will leave you giddy with tears of happiness. Yes, there are some cheesy tropes, but Crazy, Rich Asians is a delightful and exceedingly well-done film. Wu’s and Golding’s on-screen chemistry is strengthened by an ebullient supporting cast, such as breakthrough star Awkwafina, and Gemma Chan.
What else really sets this story apart? Its theme of East-West cultural fusion, rather than East conquers West (or the other way around, if you prefer). The ending promotes cultural cooperation and mutual sacrifice while preserving an appreciation of one’s roots. The message is clear: Love conquers all, even when East meets West.
Jon Chu is a vivaciously engaging director whose resume includes Step Up franchise (2008 – 2010) and Now You See Me 2 (2006). With his cinematic skills and Chinese heritage, Chu is perfectly cast for his behind-the-scenes part. What he brings to the screen, front and center, are gorgeous scenes of fantasy-like extravaganzas featuring the highest-end apparel and jewelry as well as lush, tropical Singapore. He also dishes up Singapore’s grit—these crazy, rich Asians love to binge on Singapore’s famously cheap, delectable native foods at street stalls instead of expensive restaurants. Indeed, some scenes provide a crash course in Singaporean cuisine; foodies, take notes!
Nevertheless, the film is stymied by clunky screenwriting by Peter Chiarelli, and Adele Lim, which takes some of the luster off the movie’s stars. The book is dense, telling stories of an entire ensemble rather than one couple, so it’s hard to cram into two hours. All too fast it skips over subplots and characters who deserve more screen space, like comedy stalwarts Ken Jeong, and Ronny Chiang, playing Peik Lin’s dad, Goh Wye Mun and Nick’s cousin, Eddie Cheng. On the other hand, director Jon Chu promotes rising stars like Awkwafina and Nico Santos as Rachel’s quirky friends, both of whom deliver outstanding performances.
Who would have thought Crazy Rich Asians would be such a hit? Like budget blockbusters Black Panther and Coco, this film raises our expectations for increasing diversity in American films. The brilliance behind Crazy Rich Asians is that it doesn’t try to explain itself to a white audience. Instead, it simply showcases Asian culture. What are the class hierarchies? What’s the difference between being an Asian raised in America as opposed to Asia? Go see Crazy Rich Asians. You’ll have fun and get a crash course in how to steer clear of cultural collision.