Screening hosted by Warner Brothers.
Crazy Rich Asians could be one of the most important films of the year. No, the decade. While that may be one of the boldest statements, it is a film that means a great deal to the Asian community in a time where there is a call for having more representation in films than ever before. The film marks the first time that an all-Asian cast has appeared in a mainstream film. And Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the Kevin Kwan novel of the same name that does not play up to any of those tired old Asian clichés or stereotypes. Instead, we get a mainstream film that celebrates a culture that has gone under-represented for far too long.
In Crazy Rich Asians, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) joins her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Goulding) on a trip to Singapore to attend a wedding and meet his family. But what she doesn’t know is that Nick comes from an extremely wealthy family. And before they can even make plans to travel, word of Nick bringing Rachel to the wedding spreads all the way to Singapore with just one single text that transpires with a colorful whimsy globetrotting chime stroke.
Soon enough, Rachel discovers just how rich Nick and his family are. And though she tries to be respectful, those close to Nick will do anything to separate him and Rachel. Whether that is through powerful intimidation or classless hurtful messages.
Yet, Rachel endures it all. She doesn’t want to give them the satisfaction. So she makes her own power moves by defying traditional norms or sitting with the one person who reserved a single row at a wedding, and uses her knowledge to earn her respect, much to the shock of onlookers like Eleanor.
On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians may seem like a glitzy kaleidoscope of shimmering dresses, glamorous mansions, fast cars, and fancy jewelry. But there is a lot more to it than those superficial aspects. The all-Asian cast is representing a culture that has been relegated to either supporting roles or background characters. Not only that but the film also subverts the tired old Hollywood clichés that we’ve seen in films.
These characters aren’t just based on old hackneyed labels where Asian women are quiet and submissive. Rachel Chu comes from a background where she was raised by a single mother to become one of the youngest economics professors in NYU. She is a self-made woman. Fearless, intelligent, and won’t back down. Of course, she will come to clash with Nick’s mother Eleanor Sung-Young (Michelle Yeoh), who has a powerfully majestic presence that demands respect. And yet, you can understand why Eleanor carries herself that way during the opening scenes as she is forced to endure an act of discrimination where she cannot get into a hotel room she already reserved, and is told by management she might find a place in Chinatown. It’s cringeworthy to watch, but Eleanor isn’t one to submit. And with a bit of sass she has her husband call the hotel owner, who is a dear friend, come down and welcome her with sincere open arms. Not only that, but the hotel owner goes as far as to give the hotel to her, much to the dismay of management.
Awakafina provides one too many hilarious scene-stealing moments (which is a very good thing) as Goh Pek Lin, Rachel’s best friend. Though she may have an eclectic personality, her character isn’t pigeonholed to the comic-relief role. There are times where she provides a shoulder to cry on and others where she can make us laugh with some sharp attitude. Likewise for Gemma Chan, who is elegant, witty, and caring. But most of all, she is sympathetic, not once letting her wealth define her.
Additionally, the men are charismatic, handsome, and sweet. Nick never reveals how wealthy his family really is out of fear that Rachel might see him differently and that he can be himself around her because he hides that fact. While that is admittedly selfish, Nick genuinely loves Rachel, and was willing to make his own sacrifices to see that they have a future together.
What the film does is subvert those old Hollywood clichés and ugly stereotypes. And yet, this isn’t so much of their story as it is the women’s. They have plenty of shining moments to show that they can be just as strong, smart and beautiful.
It is those nuances develop these characters fully which can only add to their authenticity. And because of that, we can sympathize with these characters and their struggles. Well, some of them at least. The spoiled ones are just so miserable and unpleasant to see, but it does reveal the uglier side of being rich and egotistical.
So Crazy Rich Asians explore a few interesting dynamics. Which is quite refreshing, especially for a romantic comedic that could have been just another ordinary straightforward love story. Instead, the film explores a few dichotomies that address real-world social issues like the idea of Asians vs Asian-Americans, traditional vs contemporary upbringing, and rich vs the common.
It’s still hard to imagine that there are such things that can separate us, but Crazy Rich Asians those aforementioned dichotomies with such elegance and grace. Characters make sacrifices for the greater good. At other times they will also refuse to back down or swerve out of the way. The film captures all of those nuances of those struggles of not living up to an in-laws expectations or the idea of the Asian identity. Although, Rachel believes that Nick’s parents have no reason to not like her as she is “so Chinese, she’s an economics professor with lactose intolerance.”
The thing about it is that Crazy Rich Asians has the courage to sympathize with all those different points of view from a unique lens. Perhaps that’s because it’s been a quarter of a century since we’ve seen a large Asian-ensemble, such as this one, lead a major studio film.
There is an entire generational gap that separates a film like Crazy Rich Asians from The Joy Luck Club. A 25-year gap to be precise. Since then, the world has gone through major societal shifts. There has been a call for more representation both on screen and off. So the film is that first step forward in the film industry that is looking to tell more Asian-driven narratives and other diverse stories.
And yet, even getting into the deeper criticisms of this film, you can’t forget what a purely wonderful rom-com Crazy Rich Asians really is. There is this whole other rich extravagant world that just seems like a fantasy. Colin’s bachelor party takes place on a cargo ship full of bikini-clad women, DJs, and rocket launchers. And is only accessible by helicopter. Meanwhile, Araminta Lee, Colin’s fiancée’s bachelorette party may not be as raunchy, but it is every bit as posh as an all-expenses-paid shopping spree and spa day on a private island as you can get.
Though all of that may seem like its crazy rich, the film manages to tone it down. We see Nick take Rachel to a food court full of street vendors. Now, it may not be the richest place on the planet, but we get to see how another community makes their living. Not only that but the way Chu shoots food and how its made, makes me want to revisit Singapore all over again.
And these are just a fraction of the Singapore you will see in the film. The beautiful set designs and shots of Singapore are simply breathtaking. The ceremony for the wedding of the century looks like it was pulled out of a fairy-tale story. Evening soiree are set against high class back drops or a party scene where fireworks light the night sky. So while it may seem like it’s something new, in reality, it’s just a different setting located in a major overseas metropolis that just so happens to be across that globe.
Then there is the music, which are just Chinese cover songs of popular English-language songs. Chu’s selection of songs couldn’t be more perfect for this film. The use of a Madonna’s Material Girl and Coldplay’s Yellow already hits the right notes because it’s sung originally in the English language, but the covers hit so much closer to those emotional targets because of the film’s Asian narrative.
And while the plot may resemble something right out of a soap opera – something Rachel recognizes when she becomes the target of a threatening message sent by Nick’s ex-girlfriend – the film is a refreshing take on the rom-com, bringing its own spin on films like Meet The Parents and Coming To Dinner.
There really isn’t much more to say about Crazy Rich Asians except that it is, as director Jon M. Chu says, a movement. A step in the right direction for those who have wanted to see more representation on screen. This is the perfect summer movie that gets all of the romance, drama, and comedy right. And despite the Asian specificity, the film still manages to connect to its audience with those universal themes. Making it all the more reason to watch this film in a theater.
Crazy Rich Asians is in theaters everywhere starting 8/15 – Get Tickets NOW!