Jon M. Chu’s ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is the ‘Black Panther’ of Asian representation but instead of vibranium, the golds and gems are in full display.
The most meaningful scene in Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians happens at a dinner table where the incredibly wealthy Singaporean Young family are gathered around to make some dumplings. Instead of handing the task to their staff, the elders Youngs, as a tradition, teach their children how to specifically make them.
“Otherwise, they’ll disappear,” Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), the mother of Nick (Henry Golding), throws some shade to his son’s asian-american girlfriend, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu). It’s a subtle remark as to how Rachel’s western values of individualism and self-seeking happiness can influence Nick to potentially drive himself away from his family. The grandmother (Lisa Lu) even chimes in and criticizes some of the dumplings Rachel made.
Not to mention, Rachel’s less desirable background and social status simply won’t make do for Eleanor’s uncompromisingly high standards. Later on, she confronts her and say, “You will never be enough for my son.”
It’s amazing how such a simple activity can be a ripe commentary on tradition, motherhood and conflicting beliefs of Asian and Western values. This is where Crazy Rich Asians shines best. It’s more than just a celebration of Asian culture, food and fashion, more than just its lavish Oscar-worthy production designs or more than just a comeback of Asian representation since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. It’s a film whose culturally significant value is more than just the sum of its parts.
The all too familiar premise is this: a deeply-in-love, young couple – Rachel, a NYU economics professor and Nick, a sought-after royal bachelor – hits a wall when Nick’s family and nosy friends gets in their way. The largest hurdle is Eleanor, who makes it clear with her icy looks that she doesn’t like her. Now Rachel has to make herself worthy in their eyes. Or will this be a battle not worth fighting for? Despite a cliche ending, Crazy Rich Asians is nothing like Hollywood has offered before.
As Rachel gets a whirlwind introduction to dozens of relatives and friends of varying importance, the film embraces you with a feigned sense of familiarity. Sometimes it feels like you’re watching a TV episode where characters keep on popping and you have to go along like you’ve already seen them before. Initially, it’s hard to keep track which is which.
Nick’s sister Astrid (Gemma Chan) has a subplot about his marital troubles that seems interesting but since we only get fragments of it due to run time restraints, it feels shoehorned. It’s a common problem found in book to movie adaptations where there are plenty of characters to wrestle with.
Still, the whole ensemble comes out as appealing as their splendid costume designs. The biggest scene stealer is Rachel’s eccentric bestfriend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who makes an impression right off the bat with her animal-printed silk pajamas.
On surface level, Crazy Rich Asians is an examination of privilege and entitlement so it allows itself to wallow in superficiality. Bridesmaids splurge on shopping and spa treatments while groomsmen throw wild parties in private ships. The biggest highlight is Nick’s best friend’s (Chris Pang) wedding, as a whole church is transformed into a lily pond. This could be a possible trend for high-class weddings in the future. Also, Kris Aquino as Malay princess Intan makes an appearance to delight Pinoy fans.
But amid the glitz and glamour, Crazy Rich Asians is very much about the powerful women at its center. In the film’s prologue set in London, we see Eleanor and his family getting denied of an accommodation by a British hotel concierge. She later on exacts her revenge by using the wealth she amassed. Hence, you can see where she’s coming from, Eleanor is not just an archetypal ‘tiger mom.’ She experienced asian discrimination first hand and to her, serving her family’s interest matters the most. This is the reason why she sees the asian-american Rachel as a threat to their culture. Yeoh bears a commandingly cool presence that makes her a worthy adversary.
Likewise, Astrid uses her financial standing to empower herself against her cheating husband. Rachel, on the other hand, shows that power is not only in the hands of the wealthy people. During an affecting Mahjong scene, Rachel’s expertise on the game theory comes into play and she proves that people should not be judged from where they came from, but rather for what they became. It’s completely satisfying.
There are plenty of reasons to like Crazy Rich Asians – the dazzling cinematography and production values, the charming chemistry of Wu and Golding, the light-hearted fun and tender moments and so on – all wrapped into a big bowl of Asian culture. Its universal warmth from relationships among families, friends and significant others makes this vacation wonderful and inclusive.
4.5 out of 5 stars
Directed by Jon M. Chu, written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. Based on the novel Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Carmen Soo, Constance Lau, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Victoria Loke, Janice Koh, Amy Cheng, Koh Chieng Mun, Selena Tan, Kris Aquino
Run time: 120 minutes