Racial representation and diversity have become a significant turning point in the current age of Hollywood. Take this year’s Black Panther, for instance. More than just your average superhero movie, it earns a distinction as the first movie to feature a rare, predominantly black cast in a big-budget studio picture.
Now, here comes Crazy Rich Asians, the first Hollywood movie in 25 years that boasts an all-Asian cast since Wayne Wang’s The Joy Luck Club. Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel of the same name, the movie follows Nick Young (Henry Golding) inviting his Chinese-American NYU economics professor girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) to attend his best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding in Singapore. The other plan is also for her to meet Henry’s parents, where Rachel soon learns that his family is actually — to put it simply — crazy rich. However, Henry’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) isn’t particularly fond of Rachel upon their first meeting.
To be honest, this kind of plot about the dilemma of a working-class protagonist facing scrutiny from his/her wealthy family member(s) is actually nothing new. This is particularly true if you regularly tuned in to TVB family dramas or most locally-produced Asian series involving poor/middle-class and rich families. Not surprisingly, you will also see familiar themes like status quo, pride and cultural clash all depicted in this movie.
It’s easy to dismiss Crazy Rich Asians as a clichéd-ridden romantic comedy that you have seen countless times before. And yet, I’m surprised the movie turns out to be better than expected. Kudos go to Jon M. Chu, the director that I initially have little confidence with. Besides, this is the same guy who gave us sub-par Step Up, G.I. Joe and Now You See Me sequels while single-handedly ruined live-action version of the beloved ’80s cartoon series, Jem and the Holograms.
But this time, I’m happy to say that Jon M. Chu is the right man for the job. He successfully captured the class, glitz and glamour of Kwan’s source material ranging from his colourful characters to the lavish setting itself. Vanja Cernjul’s cinematography is just as lush and vivid, where he made good use of Singapore and Malaysia locations as well as the extended paddy field-themed wedding scene, which turns out to be the movie’s biggest highlight in its cinematographic achievement. The rest — including Brian Tyler’s lively score, Nelson Coates’ sumptuous production design and Mary E. Vogt’s equally opulent costumes design — sealed the deal that Crazy Rich Asians triumphs as an eye-catching visual feast.
Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim’s adapted screenplay offers a satisfying mix of bouncy and dramatic vibes that are both funny, heartfelt and universally relatable. The movie also made the right choice not to fall prey with too many obvious tropes commonly associated with big-studio romantic comedies. The love story sizzles, thanks to Constance Wu and Henry Golding’s winning chemistry as the onscreen couple here. Individually speaking, Wu delivers a breakthrough performance as the plucky and level-headed Rachel Chu. She is no doubt destined to be an up-and-coming actress to watch for after spending the last few years appearing in TV series like Eastsiders and Fresh Off the Boat. The Malaysian-born, half-British Henry Golding surprisingly made quite an impression in his lead role, given the fact he is primarily known as a television host.
The comedy is mostly on point, the laugh is just as consistent without going overboard or turns annoying, even with Jimmy O. Yang’s showy appearance as the frat boy-like Bernard Tai. Supporting roles like Awkwafina as Rachel’s best friend, Peik Lin and Ken Jeong as Peik Lin’s father add more colours to their impressive comic-relief roles.
Then, there’s Michelle Yeoh, who is easily the most distinguished and well-known international actress amongst the large ensemble here. She is perfectly cast as the stern-faced Eleanor, carrying her supporting role well without resorting into a typical, one-note “evil mother-in-law” character.
Crazy Rich Asians is, of course, not without its flaws. The movie’s two-hour length does feel patchy at times, while some of the supporting characters — such as the case with Gemma Chan’s role as Nick’s estranged cousin, Astrid — are sadly underdeveloped.
A few shortcomings aside, Crazy Rich Asians proves that there is still life after all in the otherwise dwindling big-studio romantic comedy genre. It also goes to show that even a familiar storyline can bring a satisfying level of freshness if things are done right.