“Crazy Rich Asians” Movie Review

In which a demographic that spent years being desexualized by the media get two attractive leads to show how stories, no matter how old-fashioned, can be applied to anyone anywhere. Take that as you will, that’s a reality. This landmark romantic-comedy was released in theaters worldwide on August 15th, 2018. It has thus far grossed over $207 million at the worldwide box office, staying atop the #1 spot for three weeks straight and becoming the highest-grossing romantic comedy in nearly a decade. It also attracted the largest Asia-descended audience in North America in quite a few years, plus the immense support of other Asian artists in the industry. And now, there’s a sequel en route with most of the same cast and crew to return. Directed by Jon M. Chu, the adaptation of the titular novel by Kevin Kwan was in development hell for about 3 years, primarily because producers wanted to cast a Caucasian actress in the lead. Following an intense bidding war between numerous studios, Warner Bros. scooped it up for theatrical distribution, beating Netflix’s extremely high offer. This is the first major Hollywood film in 25 years to feature a predominantly Asian-American cast, the last one being The Joy Luck Club. Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, a first-generation Chinese-American economics professor at NYU. Her longtime boyfriend Nick Young, played by Henry Golding, asks her to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding in his home country of Singapore. When they arrive, she is surprised to learn that he hails from one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in all of Southeast Asia. Now Rachel must contend with the very rich and famous elite of Singapore, including Nick’s domineering mother Eleanor. Earlier this year, Netflix released two delightful rom-coms, Set it Up and To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before. Despite their lack of theatrical release, they proved that the classic formula still works in the modern era without any of the regressive gender stereotypes. Not going to lie, I initially had little interest in seeking out and watching this film in theaters. It’s not that I don’t like romantic comedies, just that the story being advertised for Crazy Rich Asians seemed so tired and overly glamorous. But after seeing all of the positive, confident buzz building up, I gave it a try, and I’m glad I did. This movie deserves a chance to be seen by as many people as possible while it’s still in theaters. Yes, the central story of a character meeting their love interest’s eccentric family is one of the most well-worn synopsizes in storytelling. But what makes this version of that story so unique is how deeply it understands numerous aspects of Asian culture. The cold opening, taking place just 20 years prior to now, reveals the struggle for families, particularly matriarchs, to gain respect in the Western world. Moreover, it details the cultural divide between someone like Rachel, who was born in the U.S. with some privilege, and Eleanor, who worked hard to build her family’s huge fortune. While their skin tone and mother tongues are ultimately the same, they come from radically different backgrounds, which essentially forms the emotional bedrock for both the film and it’s central conflict. Although I haven’t watched any of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, Constance Wu’s performance in this movie now really makes me want to. She really is charming as Rachel, in command of her own agency and tries never to let any of Nick’s family put her down. In his first film role, newcomer Henry Golding, meanwhile, is equally excellent as Nick and promises a great acting career. Charismatic and attractive, his insane family wealth is contrasted beautifully by his personal humility. The two of them share great chemistry, despite their differences in backgrounds, and play up the typical rom-com moments with ease and grace. Nearly all of the supporting cast members help to break cultural stereotypes in their quirky roles, but the best two were Awkwafina and Michelle Yeoh. Awkwafina continues her mean-streak from Ocean’s 8 as Goh Piek Lin, Rachel’s eccentric Singaporean friend from college. She delivers some of the most hilarious lines in the movie. Yeoh, meanwhile, gives perhaps her best predominantly English-speaking role as the mother Eleanor. Despite her tough, seemingly cold exterior, she brings an honest concern and care for both her spoiled children and her connection to them. She constantly feels that they’re in danger of forgetting their heritage or how they got there, which is completely understandable. As for the technical aspects, director Jon M. Chu helps to craft one of the most polished and handsomely produced rom-coms in years. Cinematographer Vanja Cernjul uses many styles of camerawork, each of which works perfectly. Whether it’s used in intimate face-to-face shots or sweeping looks at the lush island of Singapore, it always makes it look interesting. Not to mention the gorgeous locales for filming and use of color. Different shades of gold, white, yellow, or green are frequently brought out either in the outstanding costumes or production designs. Speaking of costumes, they are truly eye candy for how expensive and glamorous they are, reflecting the near-materialistic wealth of these characters. Brian Tyler wrote the original score for this movie, but I promise I can’t remember anything he wrote. Instead, the soundtrack has a wide range of different songs, mostly ones about money or classic Chinese tunes. The most memorable song in the entire film is a Mandarin cover of “Yellow” by Coldplay, performed by The Voice competitor Katherine Ho. Chu apparently wrote a long, impassioned letter to the band members after the initially refused to license it out, explaining how it showed him how his skin color was truly beautiful. Thank God they gave in, because I dare say that it’s better than the original version. With her amazing voice and the dynamic instrumentation, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve listened to it since watching it in theaters. While its overall plot may be extremely familiar and at times cliched, Crazy Rich Asians is a fun, old-fashioned step forward for on-screen representation. A charming cast, wonderful scenes and settings, and a great balance between humor and heart make this easily the best rom-com of the year and one the best in recent memory. I recognize that I may personally not be the most qualified person to discuss this film’s potential cultural impact on Hollywood, but if there’s an audience member or two who’s able to see themselves onscreen for the first time, then it should undoubtedly be a success.

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1 thought on ““Crazy Rich Asians” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: 2018 Superlatives | Geek's Landing

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