Crazy Rich Asians review Constance WuYear: 2018
Director(s): Jon M. Chu
Writer(s): Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1
Rating: PG-13
Digital, Color, 120 mins

Synopsis: A woman is invited overseas to meet her boyfriend’s family, and complications ensue. (Source)

Asians are ready for their closeup, and Crazy Rich Asians is the proof. Following a wave of whitewashed films/roles and a surge of inclusive films, this latest entry into the rom-com genre is a breath of fresh air. While it can’t and shouldn’t represent all types of Asians, it’s still a bold arrival that presents its perspective like no other film in recent history, or maybe ever. Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s novel and directed by Jon M. Chu, this thing has literally got something for everyone. It’s romantic, unpredictable and culturally vibrant. In addition, the ensemble is incredible from top to bottom. I’m talking about a cast of performers each powerful enough to headline their own film, punctuating Chu’s already extravagant direction with unfettered charm. Bottom line, this is one hell of a crowd pleaser. Most importantly though, it proves that proper representation is capable of elevating standard genre into something new.

NYU economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) has been dating her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) for over a year. Ready to take things next level, Nick asks Rachel to accompany him to Singapore. There, he’ll play best man at his best friend’s wedding, and also introduce Rachel to his family. Rachel quickly finds out, however, that Nick’s family is not only extremely wealthy, but one of the most famous families in all of Asia. Though Rachel is met warmly by Nick’s closest friends, his fierce mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), is none too pleased with what she believes is her son’s indiscretion. As Rachel is drawn into a culture war, she’s forced to weigh her love for Nick against a culture rooted in strict and deep traditions.

Chu’s film is absolutely as decadent as you’d imagine. What keeps everything grounded, though, is a keen adherence and reverence towards Asian tradition, especially in terms of the burdens and responsibilities between parents and children. Despite the film’s central love story, its heart and soul is the struggle for understanding between Rachel and Eleanor. It’s this relationship, often fraught with misunderstanding, that gives the film its weight, even amidst the culturally keen humor, fish-out-of-water scenarios and vistas which look ripped from a lavish travelogue. Yes, the film is unbridled fun and joy and laughs, but the drama behind the surface is deeply meaningful, especially for Asian viewers. To Chu and crew’s testament, the traditions here are never simplified or explained in a way that cheapens them. Instead, they’re smartly woven into what happens and each character struggle. Casual viewer or not, the film has no problem entertaining with its charm and subversion of genre tropes.

Crazy Rich Asians review Constance Wu Henry Golding Michelle YeohOf course, the film’s fully Asian cast is another cause for celebration. As the film’s emotional and narrative anchor, Constance Wu is a pure delight. She perfectly embodies the film’s dissection of cultural nurture and nature, giving the film a heroine able to see outside of herself while always taking action. To the film’s credit, Rachel is given a rare amount of agency, and Wu yields this with an inner strength that is empowering. This woman is the real deal, and this better make her a bigger star than she already is. Opposite, newcomer Henry Golding is everything he needs to be. He’s a brilliant leading man who carries a sincere sense of kindness and magnetism. As Rachel and Nick’s primary antagonist, Michelle Yeoh stands her ground. Adding to an already diverse portfolio of roles, Yeoh slays with ferocity. She walks a fine line, threatening but relatable, allowing the film’s fight between modern and traditional to feel earned and empathetic, rather than cartoonish. The show stealers are Awkwafina and Gemma Chan. Both are mostly side characters but more than get their moments to shine, giving the film two wildly disparate perspectives who drive home the stakes with either humor or sobering conviction.

No pun intended, but Crazy Rich Asians is indeed a rich experience. It’s brimming with both visual and cultural splendor, blending escapism, pop energy and romance with a heartfelt depiction of Asian experience. There’s simply way too much to point out in a single post, but that’s the other great thing about the film – it’s bound to start a healthy and long-needed conversation. As an Asian-American myself, I can’t express how emotional and beautiful it was to see the nuances of my upbringing brought to life in such a meaningful way. What Chu and co. have done is groundbreaking, and an achievement that transcends its time and place. Not only is the film a better version of what we’ve come to expect from the genre, but it’ll also be a lot of things to a lot of different people, and that’s what makes it so vibrant and important.

SG