Review: Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians succeeds as both a sharp romantic comedy and a smart look into a side of Asian culture general audiences don’t normally see.
Based on the book series of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians focuses on Asian American college professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding. It turns out that Nick was hiding the fact that his family is one of the richest and most famous in the East. Also, to make things even more complicated, Nick’s mother, Eleanor Sung-Young (Michelle Yeoh), cares only about tradition and family, and upon meeting Rachel decides the Asian-American isn’t the right match for her son.
It’s too familiar a story, yet one that is helped tremendously by the setting and how effectively it displays Asian culture and the various facets within. The film spends little time in New York before jet-setting (first class!) to Singapore. Once off the plane, Nick takes Rachel to partake in Singapore’s famous street food. If there’s one way to convey culture, it’s to showcase a culture’s food. Director Jon M. Chu cuts these mouth-watering food scenes together as a travelogue on one hand, and as a way for Rachel to immediately connect with a culture she’s well aware of, but one she was never fully immersed in. As a born-and-raised American, she has never visited East/Southeast Asia. We’re with her through this journey, learning more and more about the East and Asian culture.
It’s not only Nick’s mother that reminds Rachal of the cultural divide between Rachel and Nick, it’s Rachel’s mom, Rachel’s friends, Nick’s friends and family, and everyone else in between. Some are well-intentioned—Awkwafina is a standout in the cast, playing Rachel’s supportive friend Goh Peik Lin, who helps Rachel “fit in” amongst the Young family—while others are more cruel. Rachel tries her best to maneuver through the drama, and the ultimate test lies with Nick and whether he wants to risk losing his family over his love of Rachel.
Even casual watchers of romantic comedies won’t be surprised with where the story goes and where it ends—watch any romantic comedy from the last thirty years and you’ve seen the basic framework for Crazy Rich Asians. What vibrates here, though, is how eclectic the characters are in the film. Actually, there might be too many interesting characters packed into this one story. Nick’s extended family is quickly set up and we see them sprinkled throughout; we want to spend more time knowing each one, but there’s only so much film in these two hours. The film’s only major subplot involves Nick’s cousin Astrid Teo (Gemma Chan) and her husband, Michael (Pierre Png. Their story—involving her maintaining her identity while being one of the wealthiest women of the East—mirrors that of Rachel and Nick. It may all seem superfluous at the start—diverting from the main romance drama-comedy might be a mistake—but it’s all worth it by the time their story wraps up. There could have been more time spent on other characters, but again, this is only the first adaptation of a three-part book series. One hopes the sequel expands on the arcs of other family members, that or we eventually see a multi-hour, soap opera mini-series chronicling the Young family.
Crazy Rich Asians is sweet, smart, and absolutely funny. Director Chu fills it with enough energy to guide you through the emotional end and leave you uplifted. It puts Asian actors and filmmakers, at their best, up front, working on a distinctly Asian story. The film also becomes a universal story about acceptance and love. Not only will a unique segment of audiences appreciate seeing themselves represented in a way not seen often, Crazy Rich Asians stands out as an all-around crowd-pleaser.