Released: 30th August
Seen: 6th September
In 2013, author Kevin Kwan released the novel Crazy Rich Asians. The book was a huge success and scored rave reviews, it was popular enough to get two sequels released shortly afterwards. Now, for the record, I have not yet read these books (I feel like I should just have a general note on my page that reads “No, I didn’t read the book”) which means that if there is an element of this movie that deviates heavily from the book that a book fan will hate, I’m afraid I can’t warn you about that. I can only talk about this as a movie without that key element of context… so, the good thing is that it doesn’t matter that much because the film works wonderfully on its own without needing to rely on knowledge from the novel. Also, as I am not of Asian descent in any way, there may be cultural references in this film that I am not aware of and I highly urge you to seek out voices of that community if you’re looking for specific info about the cultural impact of this film.
The film follows Rachel Chu (Played by Constance Wu), currently a teacher of economics in New York City where she lives with her boyfriend Nick Young (Played by Henry Golding). During a romantic dinner date at a diner, Nick suggests to Rachel that she come with him to Singapore where Nick is going to be the best man at his friend Colin Khoo’s (Played by Chris Pang) wedding. Once Rachel accepts and gets on the plane, she soon learns that Nick is actually a member of one of the wealthiest families in Singapore and that she’s about to have to impress people who have lived their lives experiencing the finer things. With nothing but her wits, her boyfriend, and her old college friend Peik Lin (Played by Awkwafina), Rachel is going to have to try and handle a family that doesn’t think she belongs with them.
The story is your classic fish-out-of-water tale combined with the classic romcom’s that we all know and love. It follows a lot of the same beats, from awkward meetings with family to conflict caused by misunderstanding to a makeover scene and even a bachelorette party that goes horribly wrong for at least one party. It’s the kind of tale that we’ve been told before, if you saw a romantic comedy before then there’s a chance that you know the beats of this movie. There’s a reason for that, it’s a great framework to go from. What makes this story work is what’s being hung off of that framework, namely the characters and details that allow Crazy Rich Asians the chance to be more than just a standard rom-com. Details like the location and setting help change what each moment means. A scene where the mother, Eleanor Sung-Young (Played by Michelle Yeoh) is disapproving of the relationship between Rachel and Nick means so much more when they give us these characters cultural history. Moments that we have seen a few thousand times become something else when they’re infused with a specific bit of cultural heritage that we haven’t seen presented like this in American cinema before.
Visually this film is a buffet for the eyes, every shot is so perfectly framed and the colours are some of the most vibrant I’ve seen. Simple shots like the lead couple in bed or a meeting on a staircase draw the eye in. There is a great style going on early in the film, heavy use of split screen and bold transitions between scenes that work wonderfully. I genuinely hope that Vanja Cernjul gets some kind of award for what he has done here because of his understanding of how to sell the visuals is incredible. Little touches like the colour palette inside the Young household or how he carefully frames characters within a shot are such grand little details that you can’t take your eyes away from everything. I do really wish that the early stylistic choices stuck around a little more, things like how they do an early scene of a text chain were fun and exciting and helped inform the audience just how quick gossip travels in these circles but that style is dropped somewhere around the half-hour mark. The visual expertise is still there, but the little stylistic flourishes are gone and I was enjoying them too much.
The cast is absolutely incredible. I’m aware that there’s been some controversy regarding the casting and, again, that’s why you don’t come to me for cultural expertise. However, just from my perspective, it’s refreshing as hell to see a standard American romcom that just happens to have a cast made up entirely of Asian people. Constance Wu is an absolute delight that you root for from the second you meet her, every single second that we spend with her is incredible to behold and she exudes a warmth and strength that makes it easy as hell to sympathise with her character in this situation. Henry Golding is an absolutely brilliant leading man and I genuinely hope that someone is working on how to get him more leading male roles because he’s effortlessly charming. Michelle Yeoh plays the domineering mother role with such ease that she’s intimidating as hell, but you can see the genuine warmth. Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong-Teo gets one of the more dramatic plotlines in the film, regarding her character’s marriage to Pierre Png’s character Michael Teo, and she delivers a stunning performance as someone who is wealthy and dealing with the issues that being rich causes in her marriage to someone who wasn’t born into wealth. Awkwafina proves that she is a gifted comedic actress, something that was certainly hinted at in her role in the movie Ocean’s 8 but is now cemented as an undeniable fact because every scene she’s in gets at least a few solid laughs just from her performance alone. I could literally do this for the entire cast, all of whom are given great material to work with. There’s only one cast member who seemed to get the short end of the stick and he pops up in the end credit’s scene. I won’t spoil the moment, but it’s a moment that would’ve worked better if that character had turned up at any point throughout the film. Maybe he’ll get more to do in the sequel, who knows, the point is that they have an amazing cast.
I know I don’t normally mention the soundtracks of movies because, in general, it never really matters what pop song they use to play underneath a makeover sequence BUT here there is something really cool that the filmmakers did. Instead of just using generic pop songs, they have covers of those songs performed in Chinese or Cantonese (It varies depending on the song from what I can tell) which is really a great little detail that makes this film keep its unique tone. This movie is an American romcom but with an Asian cast and aesthetic… turns out, that’s all it needs to be. Turns out, shockingly, you can do something special with a film if you actually cast it without relying on white people. We saw this earlier when Black Panther and Wonder Woman showed that you can make a pretty special superhero movie if you cast black people or women as the leads, now Crazy Rich Asians is showing that you can cast Asian people as the leads in a rom-com and it’ll work wonderfully. Maybe this is the start of actually getting representation right for a change, hopefully soon we’ll look at films like this as a norm instead of as a breath of fresh air.
As it stands, this film is a charming movie that will make you laugh, make you well up and indulge in your occasional desire for food porn. With delightful characters, a strong script and gorgeous visual style, Crazy Rich Asians is the kind of romantic comedy that shows how to do that genre correctly while also elevating it with a dash of cultural importance. Can’t wait for the sequel, I hope it’s even longer so I can spend more time with Rachel and the Young family.