It’s easy to understand the hype around Crazy Rich Asians.
Aside from the main cast, which features wall-to-wall Asian actors — the first time in 25 years for a Hollywood film — the movie is beyond sumptuous. The fashion, the architecture, the Singapore cityscapes, the food, the flora and the overall beauty are, without hyperbole, jaw-dropping. Not to mention the attractiveness of the cast; seriously, was being ridiculously good-looking a prerequisite here?
Based on Kevin Kwan’s book of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians follows New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, Fresh Off the Boat) as she heads to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to attend his friend’s wedding. When they get there, Rachel discovers that the man she’s in love with is actually one of the richest, most well-known men in the city.
Besides attending the wedding, Rachel also heads east to meet Nick’s family for the first time. His mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), along with various relatives and meddlers, make Rachel’s life miserable as she tries to fit in. As an Asian-American, the majority of Nick’s family has difficulty accepting her, and that’s putting it mildly.
It sounds like every other romcom. Why does this stand out?
It’s true, the plotline is no different from your everyday romcom: guy and girl love each other, family stands in the way, eventually, they come to a solution. (That is not a spoiler, by the way, since there are any number of solutions they can arrive at.)
Anyway, it is at once everything and nothing that this is a movie about an Asian experience. It’s noticeable and so important because it happens so rarely (read: barely ever). Romcoms — and we all know this to be true — are usually packed to the gills with beautiful white faces, white problems, white situations. So in that way, Crazy Rich Asians is fresh and welcome. By the same token, it also doesn’t matter that the cast is Asian, because what we’re getting is your standard romcom fare.
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In an ideal world, Crazy Rich Asians should push Hollywood to branch out. Let’s see more romcoms about extended black families, or how about an Indigenous comedy? Bollywood has the market cornered on South Asian romcoms, but really, there are so many options out there for Hollywood. After a literal century of exploring the white experience, there are infinite stories to tell outside of North American borders.
How is the cast?
Stunning! No, seriously, moving beyond the superficial, there is something wonderful about seeing so many Asian faces and so much Asian talent. Chemistry is easy among the actors, with relative screen newcomer Awkwafina (who plays Rachel’s pal Peik Lin Goh) stealing nearly every scene she’s in. Nico Santos as Oliver T’sien is a laugh-riot. Yeoh is perfectly icy as the unaccepting mama bear, and Wu’s serious, sweet emotional turn is a far cry from her FOTB sitcom portrayal.
I’m not Asian. Will I still enjoy it?
Yes, and if anything, non-Asians may enjoy this on a whole other level. Again, we’ve been exposed to mostly white-centred movies for the majority of our lives, and only recently has the pendulum begun to swing; here, you can learn what it’s like in another culture when it comes to relationships, family legacy, responsibilities and heritage. The audience learns how to make the perfect dumpling and gets an intimate tour of Singapore (you’ll want to add it to your travel list), for example.
And here’s the thing: once you spend enough time immersed in another culture, you begin to notice the similarities rather than the differences. We all have that crazy relative who brings embarrassment, we all know the intricacies and pitfalls of family dynamics, we all know about parental and relationship pressure. These things are a part of all of our lives, which adds to the magic of Crazy Rich Asians.
If you’re Asian, there are numerous nods and “inside jokes” that only you will get, and that’s fine. It’s all still funny, even to those of us on the outside.
Does it have any faults? It can’t be perfect.
OK, you’re right. There are faults. After all, this is a romcom. Some dialogue is stiffly written and unnatural, and a few of the actors deliver lines so woodenly it’s embarrassing. In the supporting lead role, Golding comes off as one-dimensional and so perfect it’s unbelievable. But he’s so damn charming it’s tough to find fault. Otherwise, the movie is a shower of excess, and if anything, you’ll leave the theatre wanting more money.
So what’s the bottom line?
Crazy Rich Asians is a non-stop good time. A visual feast for the eyes, it is saturated and otherworldly, and hopefully the beginning of a whole new era of cinema where we seek to explore the fullness of humanity instead of ignoring it. There’s a whole planet full of different lives and experiences out there, and we’ve barely scratched the surface.
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ opens in theatres across Canada on Aug. 15.