Crazy Rich Asians – 2018
Director Jon M. Chu
Screenplay Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim based on the book by Kevin Kwan
Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Nico Santos, Lisa Lu, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh
Crazy Rich Asians is the movie version of the first of three books that have been quite popular with those who like reading about love, loss and more love among the Asian elite. That this is a mixture of old culture clashing with new hotness should be a surprise to few. That it’s a pleasant film filled with charming performances should be a happy thing for those who’ve enjoyed or – like me – thought about reading the books.
Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, the main protagonist. She’s a professor of economics at NYU. She’s been dating Nick Young (Golding) for two years, and now he wants to take her to Asia to the wedding of his best friend. This opens her to the news that he is actually the son of one of Asia’s richest families. How or why this secret was kept from his girlfriend for two years is covered in the brief way one expects when a story is condensed for the big screen.
This is not the biggest trouble Rachel is going to face on her trip to Singapore. Her relationship has been secreted from many in Nick’s life, due to the fact that he’s pretty sure that in the eyes of his family, Rachel’s lack of family pedigree will make her unworthy.
This is especially true of Nick’s mother, played with proper elegance by the beautiful Michelle Yeoh. She makes a better door than a window to Nick and Rachel’s future.
There are some allies for Rachel in her journey east. Awkwafina is Goh, her friend from college who is doing well, but in complete awe of the family with whom Rachel is entwined. Gemma Chan is Astrid, Nick’s favorite cousin, is there until problems of her own sideswipe her entire world.
The ups and downs of Rachel, Nick and Astrid are present in somewhat abbreviated forms. We see story lines that hold hints of other events that may have occurred offscreen, forcing the viewer to take for granted there is some sort of sense it all had to make before parts or entire sequences of the film were cut to ensure they get to the end before the viewer’s boyfriend or husband starts looking at his watch more than the screen.
This is a problem that director Chu balances by making the characters pop from the screen almost as much as the delightful scenery. The film makes great use of Awkwafina, Jeong and Santos, along with some wonderful looks from older ladies in the background. The scenery of the wedding and the reception are also highlights.
Wu and Yeoh have some powerful scenes and each brings their emotional A-Game. Wu in particular gives quite a range for the amount of ridiculous things one might be exposed to in the tight time frame presented in this film. What takes place in 3 months in the book seems to be about a week here.
Yeoh is a reservoir of feeling hidden behind the mask of propriety. It’s obvious that most of her journey takes place in her incredibly descriptive eyes. We see what she says is different from what she means. This doesn’t reach the level of her incredible work in the classic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. That’s asking a lot. A comprehensive script or just more time might have given her a shot at a major award for this performance.
One does have to wonder how much better the story would have been presented in the hands of someone more capable than Chu. The arrival to Singapore shows two couples getting into a car at the airport and subsequently driving back and forth in front of the Marina Bay Sands on their way to the hotel. Yes, it’s a beautiful sight, but there’s more creative ways to work in the sights in one of the more glorious cities in Asia.
There are other observations which may possibly amount to quibbling, when in retrospect, this is a story about a girl who loves a boy and that boy loves her back. There are some wonderful costume changes, a decent soundtrack and glorious color palates through much of the film. It just feels like so much is left out, it could have been closer to an epic than just the romantic comedy it ends up being. A movie like this should remind me of more than Sex in the City.
Like anything, though, it’s a vote to see better films of a various cultures when one supports a variety of films from those different cultures. I enjoyed learning a bit about the history of Singapore and I look forward to discovering more. At some point, perhaps we’ll get more epic stories. For now, I will settle for being entertained, a bit more educated…and happy.
(***1/2 out of *****)