CRAZY RICH ASIANS ½
PG-13, 120 mins.
2018, PG-13, 120 mins.
Constance Wu as Rachel Chu / Henry Golding as Nick Young / Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young / Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong / Sonoya Mizuno as Araminta Lee / Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin / Chris Pang as Colin Khoo / Harry Shum Jr. as Charlie Wu / Remy Hii as Allistair Chieng / Tan Kheng Hua as Kerry Chu
Directed by Jon M. Chu / Written by Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli, based on the book by Kevin Kwan
dawned on me just after I finished screening CRAZY RICH ASIANS.
new romcom is paradoxically a groundbreaking and important film in the
annals of Hollywood history...that also happens to be just as achingly
conventional and clichéd as just about any other dime-a-dozen romcom out
there that preceded it.
hear me out.
a positive, CRAZY RICH ASIANS - based on the 2013 novel of the same name
by Kevin Kwan - is most definitely an important film in the sense that it
represents the very first modern Hollywood film featuring an all-Asian
cast and an Asian-American lead in nearly a quarter of a century (the last
film to achieve such an honor is 1993's THE JOY LUCK CLUB).
This really matters and is significant, seeing as Hollywood has had
a very dubious track record of accurately and consistently giving Asian
performers proper roles to harness their talents, not to mention that
Asians have been given the very short end of the stick when it comes to
how they're presented in mainstream films.
So, the fact that CRAZY RICH ASIANS has all of its roles - both
leading and supporting - being played by Asians is hard to ignore.
leads me to the negative, which is the way that CRAZY RICH ASIANS drops
its Asian cast and crew in a story that feels like it's lazily
regurgitating an awful lot of stale troupes and conventions from the
romcom genre that we're see so many bloody times before.
When one strips away the Asian cast and setting, CRAZY RICH ASIANS
is, deep down, just another run of the mill Hollywood romcom, replete with
all of the genre's most well worn and frankly overused formulas.
Now, there's nothing inherently wrong with that approach, per se,
but at this alarmingly late stage in the game is it too much to ask for a
film that celebrates its Asian crew and a spirit of trend-setting
inclusion at least populate them in a story that's equally pioneering?
at a somewhat nonsensically bloated running time of two hours, CRAZY RICH
ASIANS contains an overall premise and plot that seems more ripe for a
daytime soap opera than big screen treatment and consumption. The film has trappings of a classic fairy tale of two
lovers at polar opposite ends of the social and economic ladder that have
to fight to maintain their loving union when oppressive barriers rear
their ugly heads. Of the few
aspects of CRAZY RICH ASIANS that's refreshing is that the lovers in
question are already together and madly in love at the beginning of the
story, so no chance meet-cutes and no exposition as to how they met and
how they came together. One
of them is a self-made woman of limitless intelligence named Rachel Chu
(Constance Wu), who's an esteemed professor of economics and game theory
at New York University. She
seemingly has it all already, especially in the relationship department
with Nick Young (Henry Golding), and the pair have been inseparable for
over a year. Marriage seems
on the horizon, even though neither has verbally spoken of it.
Rachel seems blissfully and somewhat illogically unaware of over the last
twelve months is that she's been dating one of the wealthiest and most
well known bachelors in not only his home country, but arguably in the
world. His Singapore based
family are rich...like...crazy rich.
Rachel begins to learn of Nick's unfathomable affluence when they
step on board their ultra posh first class plane that's set to fly back
home to China. Now, CRAZY
RICH ASIANS establishes Rachel as a tenaciously smart women that's one of
the leading experts in her field, yet she's never done a basic Google
searched on her future husband, nor is she aware of his massive social
media popularity across the world.
Sure. Uh huh.
the pair make it over to Singapore, during which time Rachel becomes
completely blown away by just how rich Nick and his family are. Complicating matters is Nick's intimidating mother, Eleanor
Young (a perfectly cast Michelle Yeoh), who's not outright in her
hostility towards Rachel, but nevertheless evokes a heavily scrutinizing
aura of influence over her, whom she perceives as way, way below
her son's standards of an acceptable bride.
One of the bright spots of CRAZY RICH ASIANS is with Yeoh's
casting, who never plays Eleanor as a venomous tiger-mom stereotype, but
still manages to infuse in her a delicate balancing act between wounded
pride and an authoritative matriarch that will stop at absolutely nothing
to ensure that her family's legacy is not tainted by what she perceives as
a gold digger in Rachel that's not pure blood Chinese.
In her mind, Rachel is a self-serving Yankee that has no business
becoming a part of the family legacy she's spent a lifetime building and
thing that helps CRAZY RICH ASIANS is the palpable chemistry between Wu
and Golding as a couple that are passionate for one another that,
regrettably, are between a rock and a very hard place.
The pair make for genuinely authentic on screen lovers, and Wu in
particular really helps to carry the film with her unique brand of
infectious spunk and naive innocence.
I only wished, though, that Golding was giving more of a character
on paper to play here, mostly because he's superficially just presented as
a wish-fulfillment object of desire here stripped right off of a Harlequin
romance novel cover...and not much else.
He's deliriously handsome and generally nice, but he's mostly an
empty vessel prop that propels the plot forward.
so many other romcoms, CRAZY RICH ASIANS is also quite guilty of never
probing its characters deeply or with any complex nuance. That, and there are also a multitude of extra characters and
subplots that are introduced, only then to be ignored and underwritten at
the drop of a hat. Like, for
instance, the arc involving Nick's cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), who sees
her own relationship with her husband slowly become more unraveled by the
day in a subplot that never seems as developed as its should have been. And when CRAZY RICH ASIANS is going down some truly solemn
narrative threads it props up the obligatory wacky sidekick to the main
character that's inserted into various scenes throughout for the purpose
of generating laughs. Rapper
turned actress Goh Peik Lin plays just such a character here, and she
brings a welcoming sense of unpredictable comic energy to the film with a
character that, to be fair, is written on pure autopilot.
There's something else that left a really bad taste in my mouth about CRAZY RICH ASIANS: This movie is excessive wealth and rampant consumerism porn. The flamboyantly over-the-top luxuries that are shown as the daily lives of Nick's family members - with their multiple mansions, private jets, helicopters and islands - is borderline obscene at times. I found my emotional buy-in and investment in these characters and their problems all but null and void, seeing as they all live in a remarkably comfortable and self-preserved universe of ridiculous financial fortune that 99% of audience members - let alone most Asians and non-Asians alike - will most likely never attain in their existence. CRAZY RICH ASIANS wants to have its cake and eat it too: It desires to mock and laugh at these rich people, but at the same time it also rejoices and props up their affluence for the purposes of enforcing the fantasy elements of the story; it's all more than a bit off-putting.
think there could have been a really compelling area of interest that
CRAZY RICH ASIANS should have explored in terms of how money and a
family's lust for power and riches have tainted their souls and, in turn,
how they negatively affect them letting outsiders like Rachel into the
mix. Unfortunately, the
makers here spend more time relishing at the thought of transporting
viewers from one orgasmically opulent set piece to the next that engages
in a bit too much hero worshiping of the decadence of Nick's family.
Yeah, yeah...CRAZY RICH ASIANS is trying to be a pure and noble
minded bit of romcom escapism, but why couldn't its script be as
refreshingly cutting edge as its ethnic makeup?
No doubt, this film is a milestone in terms of Hollywood taking
notice of the importance of proper ethnic representation in the industry
(and fixing the lack thereof status quos that have sickeningly permeated
the industry for decades). This
cast assembled here is sensational. We
need more films with all Asian casts.
We need more films from different cultural prerogatives to enrich
and mature the medium.
We also need better films than CRAZY RICH ASIANS to champion those causes.