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Crazy Rich Asians Movie Review

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) movie poster Crazy Rich Asians

Theatrical Release: August 15, 2018 / Running Time: 121 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Jon M. Chu / Writers: Kevin Kwan (novel); Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim (screenplay)

Cast: Constance Wu (Rachel Chu), Henry Golding (Nick Young), Michelle Yeoh (Eleanor Young), Gemma Chan (Astrid Young Teo), Lisa Lu (Ah Ma), Awkafina (Peik Lin Goh), Harry Shum Jr. (Charlie Wu), Ken Jeong (Wye Mun Goh), Sonoya Mizuno (Araminta Lee), Chris Pang (Colin Khoo), Jimmy O. Yang (Bernard Tai), Ronny Chieng (Eddie Cheng), Remy Hii (Alistair Cheng), Nico Santos (Oliver T'sien), Jing Lusi (Amanda Ling), Carmen Soo (Francesca), Pierre Png (Michael Teo), Fiona Xie (Kitty Pong), Victoria Loke (Fiona Cheng), Janice Koh (Felicity Young), Amy J. Cheng (Jacqueline Ling), Koh Chieng Mun (Neenah Goh), Calvin Wong (P.T. Goh), Tan Kheng Hua (Kerry Chu), Constance Lau (Celine)

 

It's been twenty-five years since The Joy Luck Club and twenty since Mulan and Rush Hour and Asians remain sorely underrepresented in American cinema. While cries for diversity in film are louder than they've ever been, they largely focus on African-American creators and performers. Outrage over perceived snubs for the likes of Straight Outta Compton and Creed may serve a purpose,
but what of the fact that Asian people represent 5% of America's population and yet only two people of such origin have ever earned a lead acting Oscar nomination: Merle Oberon, an Anglo-Indian actress, in 1935, and UK-born Ben Kingsley twice? Asian-American people don't even have movies and roles for the Academy to ignore.

To that end, here comes Crazy Rich Asians, the first real Asian-centric American film since Joy Luck a quarter-century ago. Adapted from the first of Kevin Kwan's three popular books, this romantic dramedy introduces us to Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a young and intelligent game theory professor at NYU who has been dating the handsome and professional Nick Young (Henry Golding) for some time when he invites her to accompany him to Singapore where they are to attend the wedding of his longtime friend.

In "Crazy Rich Asians", our protagonist Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) discovers her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) is "crazy rich."

At JFK International Airport, Rachel discovers that Nick comes from money. The two are seated in a paradisical first class where the seats become luxurious beds and anything seems possible. Turns out the Young family is one of Singapore's wealthiest and Rachel, the daughter of a single hard-working immigrant mother, is about to be thrust into the most lavish of lifestyles.

The opulence seems pretty alluring at first. But Rachel faces resistance from those bitter that she seems to have won the heart of China's most eligible bachelor. She also is given a steely reception from Nick's mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who neither hides nor cushions her disapproval.

Fortunately for her and for us, Rachel's college friend Peik Lin (a scene-stealing Awkwafina) is back living in Singapore with her family and able to provide our protagonist with a little moral support and fashion advice.

The effete Oliver (Nico Santos) helps Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) find a dress to wear to the big ceremony.

Many celebrated Marvel's Black Panther earlier this year for being the first attempt at producing a big-budget aspiring blockbuster with a predominantly black cast. It received rave reviews and stands as the third highest grossing film ever domestically (ignoring the huge matter of inflation). Crazy Rich Asians feels about as historic as a milestone in Asian-American cinema.
Of course, Asian-Americans have been represented less and have much further to go. Still, even a $30 million late summer chick flick is a big step forward and easy to appreciate.

But films are art and while it's perfectly valid to applaud diversity and representation, we still ultimately have to judge the thing on its merits. While most of my fellow critics held up Black Panther as a near-unprecedented achievement, I found it to be merely a pretty good superhero movie, somewhere in the lower middle stretch of Marvel Cinematic Universe works. By contrast, if we're measuring Crazy Rich Asians as a romantic comedy, which it basically is, then it's worth celebrating twice because it is a distinctly above average effort for the genre.

Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2, G.I. Joe: Retaliation) and his creative team stretch that $30 million far to convey the opulence of the setting as previously described in print. The viewer feels privvy to great privilege and that is intriguing and exciting for the vast majority of us who never will experience that in person (and presumably also for those who do and get their chance to be represented here). Still, Smash Mouth warned us all that glitters is gold and it is the sympathetic Rachel, our shooting star if you will, who must break the mold amidst this unwelcoming decadence.

The screenplay by Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal) and TV-seasoned Adele Lim ("Reign", "Lethal Weapon") is genuinely witty and funny. It helps that the material is delivered by solid performers who seize the opportunities afforded them here having had too few before them. Standouts include the aforementioned Awkwafina; Ken Jeong, who straddles a line of excess as her father; and Jimmy O. Yang as a crude bad boy. In a movie full of Asian characters, there is no room for stereotypes, and it's rather refreshing to get a different culture and sensibility in their place.

With heavy marketing and favorable reviews helping to cultivate already existent demand, Crazy Rich Asians is shaping up to potentially become the biggest attraction for women among summer 2018. It doesn't need to put up the big numbers of Ocean's Eight or Mamma Mia to be deemed a success, and I have little doubt it will open strong and coast through the season's uncompetitive final weeks. I also have little doubt that the inevitable sequel will disappoint, but that is something to worry about later. For now, we can appreciate that the film exists and that it is better than expected.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: The Spy Who Dumped Me Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again The Meg Christopher Robin Black Panther
From Director Jon M. Chu: Now You See Me 2 G.I. Joe: Retaliation Step Up 2 The Streets Justin Bieber: Never Say Never
Written by Peter Chiarelli: The Proposal
Michelle Yeoh: Sunshine Morgan Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 The Karate Kid (2010) Kung Fu Panda 2
Constance Wu: The Lego Ninjago Movie | Awkafina: Ocean's Eight Storks Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising
My Big Fat Greek Wedding Four Weddings and a Funeral The Great Gatsby The Princess Diaries Mulan Rush Hour 3

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Reviewed August 14, 2018.



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