I don’t think I’ve ever cried and laughed so much in a movie theater until this movie.
Kevin Kwan published his novel Crazy Rich Asians, the first of a three-book series, in 2013, and its been a best-seller ever since. I, on the other hand, did not read the book and its sequels until July 2018. This was amidst ongoing press and new trailers for the Crazy Rich Asians film which premieres August 15.
What was a fun, over-the-top book that played out like a soap opera against the backdrop of Asian luxury is now a film that’s breaking the boundaries of what so many thought could not be achieved through Asian entertainment. The film is still a fun, over-the-top soap opera that features private jet-setting and couture shopping, but it’s become so much more to people across the world, and it’s a success!
Directed by Jon M. Chu (Step Up series, Now You See Me films), Crazy Rich Asians is a love letter to Singapore and to Asian values surrounding family and love. The film, based off of Kwan’s book, centers around Chinese-American, NYU economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who travels with her boyfriend and fellow NYU professor, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his home of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. This plan seems great—Rachel’s never been to Singapore, and she’d love to meet the family of the man she’s been dating for two years. But Nick leaves out one, tiny detail—his family is crazy rich, like royal family wealthy, and he’s basically the Singaporean equivalent of Prince Harry.
Hilarity and shenanigans ensue once Rachel starts socializing with Singapore’s elite before the wedding. The most unexpected character of the film was Peik Lin (Awkwafina). With a bigger role to play (than in the books) in mediating between Rachel and Nick’s family on the sidelines, Peik Lin continues to save the day with her witty one-liners and opulent wardrobe.
Along with great casting for the characters, it’s clear that Chu wanted to focus on the visuals of the film. Chu does well in trying to capture the endless details and paragraph-long footnotes in Kwan’s books describing the fashion, food, and culture of surrounding Singapore that truly brings all of the characters to life. Surprisingly, with only a $30 million budget, Chu was able to score couture pieces and jewelry from different designers, such as Dior and Elie Saab. The most spectacular pieces are cousin Astrid’s subtle yet sophisticated pale pink dress and Araminta Lee’s wedding dress reminiscent of water lilies and waterfalls. If these people are truly Kwan’s crazy rich Asians, then they need the accouterment to prove it and Chu achieved that.
But in the end, it is all just accouterment for the different characters. While some are complex and need more story development like Astrid’s marriage struggles, there are others who are stagnant in the best way like cousin Edison who can barely function because he’s so obsessed with his family’s image and getting “optical angles.”
Most of the film doesn’t take itself too seriously, because the book series doesn’t. It’s the light, airy antics of the many peripheral characters that allow Kwan and CRA screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli to get at the larger themes in the story about family with only a few characters: Rachel, Nick, and Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh). Lim and Chiarelli transformed the stuck up, snobby Eleanor Young into a mother conflicted because of her devotion to family and sacrifices she made while raising her son with a disapproving mother-in-law. Eleanor explains to Rachel that’s it’s not her, personally, that she dislikes. It’s what Rachel represents, as someone who’s too American and so out-of-touch with her Chinese roots. Rachel would undo all the hard work that Eleanor had put in to belong in her in-law’s family, especially amongst her highly-regarded mother-in-law, Shang Su Yi (Lisa Lu).
While Rachel feels that she should not have to sacrifice Nick to save face with his family, she ultimately does show her integrity to Eleanor and that she’s not the American banana of which she appears. And it is probably this show of character and display of shared values that Eleanor finally relinquishes her position as the most important woman in Nick’s life to make space with Rachel and eventually give Nick her blessing to propose to Rachel.
Audiences have been waiting for Crazy Rich Asians for a long time. As a person of color, it’s emotional to watch a scene and realize that another minority has probably never seen their own portrayal on screen in western culture. With a five-continent casting call, Chu hired Asian actors from a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Everyone needs to see this film for both its cultural significance and the never-ending fun and beauty that Chu and cinematographer Vanja Cernjul display. Asian casts and unapologetically Asian films are here to stay. Crazy Rich Asians opens in theaters August 15.