Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Based on a 2013 novel by Singaporean-American author Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians is romance-comedy drama about a young Chinese-American woman named Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who follows her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his home in Singapore to meet his family and does not know they’re extremely wealthy and popular in the country. She quickly becomes the gossip among the locals and media, and worst of all, Nick’s mother and matriarch of the family, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), does not approve of their relationship. She feels the pressure of being an outsider and a nobody compared to Nick and his family. With the support of her college best friend Goh Peik Lian (Awkwafina) who’s a local there, she must find ways to win Eleanor’s acceptance.
The film is a typical story of a struggling romance between a “prince/princess” and a “poor nobody” due to different social class, ethnicity or disapproval from the parents. This overused plot is seen in countless movies and series, plenty of them from Asia. In addition to that, it has the familiar xenophobic, American-in-Asia-culture-shock flavour to it, like The Last Samurai (2003) and The Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006). However, despite the formulaic story, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be thoroughly enjoyable and quite thoughtful as well. It’s a familiar chick flick but done with great humour and heart, exploring the modern cultural and social differences. This is especially surprising considering that the film is directed by Jon M. Chu, who did critically panned films such as Jem and the Holograms (2015), Now You See Me 2 (2016), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013) and the Step Up sequels (2008 – 2014).
It is also interesting to see an Asian rom-com by an American production. Despite some exaggerations and the lack of Singlish (Singaporean English), the film’s depiction of Singapore is commendable. Chu must have studied the source material and the screenplay by Malaysian writer Adele Lim (One Tree Hill, Lethal Weapon TV series) and Peter Chiarelli (Now You See Me 2, The Proposal), to a great extent. Chu himself is a Taiwanese American so that probably helped a lot as well in making the film relatable to Singaporean and Malaysian audiences such as myself.
The performances by the actors are fantastic, particularly Michelle Yeoh (The Lady, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon films) as the intimidating mother of the protagonist’s boyfriend, and Nora Lum a.k.a. Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8) who serves as the comic relief, flamboyant best friend. Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat TV series) and Malaysian actor Henry Golding did charmingly well for their leading roles as well but it is the supporting characters that truly stole the show and made each of their scenes memorable.
Funny thing is that most of the main Singaporean characters are not portrayed by Singaporean actors and there are actually more main cast members from their neighbouring country Malaysia who shares similar cultures and English accent. The most notable Singaporean actors featured are Tan Kheng Hua, Pierre Png (both played a married couple in the popular 90s sitcom Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd) and Fiona Xie, all of whom were impressive in their minor roles. I actually find that the subplot between Png’s character Michael Teo and his wife Astrid, played by British actress Gemma Chan, more intriguing, unique and it adds to a meaningful layer to the film’s main themes.
Crazy Rich Asians is extremely entertaining to watch not only because of its drama and relatable humour, but also because the audience gets the fun, Richie Rich-like fantasy of experiencing the world of absurd luxury in the shoes of a working-class commoner. Oh yes, don’t worry, the film does indeed deliver what its title says while showing the downsides of it. Yeah… we totally worry about being super wealthy. Sure.
What I would’ve named the film: “Lee Chi Rich” or “Young (the) Rich and Famous”
Malaysian censorship: Oddly, most of the kissing moments are cut after they’ve already started. And it’s not like kissing scenes have been consistently censored here recently. Is it because the characters are Asians?
Second opinion: My girlfriend liked the film too, saying that it’s very funny despite Constance Wu’s inability to shake off her acting style from Fresh Off the Boat.
Verdict: Probably the guilty pleasure of the year.
Rating: 4 / 5
Genre: Romance comedy
Running Time: 121 minutes
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenwriters: Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim
Cast: Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong
Malaysia Release Date: 22 August 2018
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: SK Global Entertainment, Starlight Culture Entertainment, Color Force, Ivanhoe Pictures, Electric Somewhere