Asia Takes Hollywood: A Review Of "Crazy Rich Asians"
Cultures clash in a symphonic interplay of comedy and social awareness in the much-anticipated Crazy Rich Asians. Based on the popular novel by Kevin Kwan, the film is funny, with a keen eye cast on class discrepancy.
Love is the central theme of the film whether it’s young love or love of money and legacy. We have the dynamic Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, a Chinese American economics professor at New York University who works hard and follows her passion like a good, old American girl. Those qualities endear her to Nick Young, played by the magnetic Henry Golding. Unbeknownst to Rachel, she is dating a super-wealthy scion of one of Singapore’s most powerful families.
On the way to Singapore to attend Nick’s best friend’s wedding, Rachel is treated to sumptuous accommodations from the airport to the airplane. When she asks Nick if his family is rich, he nonchalantly says they are comfortable which prompts Rachel to answer “that is exactly what a super-rich person would say.” The script by Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal) is full of funny and observant one-liners adding layers in developing each colorful character.
Set mostly in Singapore, the country becomes its own character, thrusting Rachel into the lion’s den. When she meets Nick’s protective mother, Eleanor Sung-Young, played elegantly and with fierce determination by Michelle Yeoh, the old and new worlds collide.
In the hands of a less-gifted actress, the character of Eleanor could have been just a caricature but Yeoh is able to inject humanity to the traditional domineering mother role that she gets our sympathy. Indeed, Crazy Rich Asians is full of crazy talented actors that steer the film from entering melodramatic territory.
Current “it” girl, Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8), is the scene-stealer of the show as Peik Lin, Rachel’s college best friend who lives in Singapore with her nouveau riche family. Her blonde hairdo is as audacious as her family’s tacky but palatial home decorated in gold and inspired by the Palace of Versailles by way of Donald Trump’s gaudy décor. Peik Lin is our homegirl, she’s real, down-to-earth, and funny. We see Rachel’s journey through her eyes and Awkwafina delivers a memorable performance matched by Ken Jeong (Hangover) who plays her equally gaudy father, Wye Mun Goh. Both actors provide the necessary comic relief.
Another actor worth mentioning is Gemma Chan (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) as Nick’s cousin, Astrid Leong-Teo. She is simultaneously relatable and untouchable in a role that requires her to be lavish and above reproach. Being wealthy becomes a thing of embarrassment for Astrid as she hides her luxurious purchases from her unsuspecting husband.
Filipino pride is also evident in Crazy Rich Asians with the appearance of Kris Aquino as Princess Intan who gives Rachel some much-needed advice. It may be a quick cameo but Aquino’s character is relevant to the story. When I interviewed Constance Wu about working with Aquino, she was full of compliments towards the queen of all media saying she was charming and kind. Filipino Comedian Nico Santos from NBC’s Superstore also shines as Oliver T’sien, the poorest member of the Young family. Relegated to acquiring hard-to-get things like a one-of-a-kind gong, Oliver is a snappy, snarky gay family member who takes a liking to Rachel.
The cinematography by Vanja Cernjul is as opulent as the production design. When you see the wedding in the film, you would wish it was your own ceremony. In fact, everything in Crazy Rich Asians is grandiose and ostentatiously eye-popping.
Everything is held together by director Jon M. Chu, making the best movie of his career so far. I have interviewed Chu from his early days in Step Up 2: The Streets all the way to Justin Bieber’s Believe and it’s nice to see him evolve and make a film that matches his rhythmic beats. Nothing feels erroneously false in Crazy Rich Asians.
But a fairy tale needs a princess and her prince and both Chu and Golding deliver. Chu is highly relatable as a commoner who stumbles upon her prince and is not impressed by his riches while Golding is my Asian “Bachelor” full of wit, hotness, and charms.
Crazy Rich Asians is being marketed as the first all-Asian ensemble since The Joy Luck Club but you will enjoy the film regardless of your race. Love, family, and finding happiness are key ingredients in this thing called life. You will walk out of the theater happy and contented without feeling guilty.
While talking to Awkwafina and Ken Jeong during the press junket for the movie, I had an epiphany in the middle of our conversation. I looked at them in the eyes and said, “look at us, we’re all Asians talking about a big Hollywood movie, when was the last time this happened?” It is nice to see a little representation of us on the big screen that I am proudly calling Crazy Rich Asians my own personal Black Panther.
Manny the Movie Guy is a five-time Emmy-winning film critic and host/moderator. Based in Palm Springs, California, Manny the Movie Guy can be seen on NBC Palm Springs, ANC News, and The Filipino Channel’s Balitang America.