[Review by Andy Thai]
Much has been said of Crazy Rich Asians and its status as the first Hollywood film to feature an all-Asian cast since the 1993 movie The Joy Luck Club. But this status belies the fact that many audiences – from all races – will be able to relate to the film’s messages of acceptance, belonging, love, and sacrifice.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an American economics professor, agrees to travel to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). The reason is two- fold: Nick is set to be the best man at his friend Colin’s wedding and he’ll also be able to introduce Rachel to his family. What she doesn’t know is that Nick hails from one of the richest families in Asia, and with it comes a lifestyle and strong sense of tradition that she’ll have to learn to navigate. As Rachel’s mother points out before her trip: while she may look Chinese on the outside, growing up in New York means the Young family will consider her an outsider.
True to its name, the film is an extravagant feast for the eyes. Brands such as Jimmy Choo, Christian Dior and Mercedes-Benz are constantly bandied about. The grey urban New York””a jungle of concrete and steel””is a stark contrast to the bright and colourful environments of Singapore, which explode on screen when the characters touch down. From the lush Gardens by the Bay park to the towering majesty of the Marina Bay Sands, Crazy Rich Asians is as much a tourism ad for the country as it is a step in the right direction for Asian representation on screen (parts of the film were also shot in Malaysia, albeit, standing in for Singapore).
Crucially, director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) has assembled an incredible cast to bring Kevin Kwan’s book of the same name to life. Constance Wu is effective, carrying both toughness and vulnerability in equal measure, while Henry Golding shines in his first major acting role. Playing Nick’s mother, Eleanor Sung-Young, is long-renowned Malaysian Chinese actress Michelle Yeoh, who portrays the character with a stern austerity. Her posture and tone of voice let us know that her love for her son is without question, and that her sense of duty is unwavering.
For all the glitz and glamour, it’s the small details that most “bananas” will really gravitate to. When Rachel’s friend Goh Peik Lin (a scene-stealing Awkwafina) drops her off at Nick’s Ah Ma’s (grandmother) home for a family gathering, he extends an invite for her to stay. Goh refuses the offer twice before enthusiastically accepting when asked a third time. On the surface it’s an incredibly funny scene, but for the Asian diaspora audience it’s a relatable moment demonstrating respect and humility.
Whether it’s through the music (bilingual songs and Chinese covers of English tracks), or the set design (art-deco meets traditional Asian styling), the clash of Eastern culture and Western ideals for Asians growing up outside of the continent are externalized, giving audiences a glimpse of what it’s like to be stuck between two worlds. Crazy Rich Asians is opulent, decadent, and a jubilant ride for all.