You might have heard all the noise about Crazy Rich Asians and it being a watershed moment for representation in Hollywood, thanks to its all-Asian cast. I am here to report that director Jon M Chu (best known for the Step Up movies and two Justin Bieber documentaries) has crafted a glossy, fun film with a lot of heart that it breathes new life into the romcom as we know it.
That the entire cast is Asian, is just happenstance.
Because at its core, the story’s many themes — whether it’s the clash of cultures, of class differences and of tradition versus modernity — are all universal. Yes, tales about poor girls falling for men way over their leagues and the ensuing drama are well-worn tropes. But Chu, with his adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling series of the same name, manages to twist it, and, along with a very fine cast and location, gives it a fillip that is enjoyable, emotional and deeply satisfying.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a New York University professor who decides to travel to Singapore with boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to attend his best friend’s wedding over spring break. It will be a good opportunity for her to meet his family finally, he teases. Only Rachel is soon to find out Nick belongs to the wealthiest family on the island. And he, as the heir, is one of its most eligible bachelors.
Upon their arrival, we are soon introduced to a number of characters. Most notably, there’s Peik Lin (the hilarious Awkwafina), Rachel’s old friend from school in the US and her father Wye Mun (the always dependable Ken Jeong), both of whom quickly fill Rachel in on Nick and his family’s status. And then there is Eleanor Young, Nick’s mother who cares as much about her son as she does protecting her family and its reputation, played with so much grace by the iconic Michelle Yeoh.
We know immediately that Rachel and Eleanor are destined for an inevitable face-off, but Chu builds up the tension slowly, throwing in massive party scenes, showing off Singapore in all its glitzy glory. The wedding of Nick’s best friend is so dazzling and so beautifully shot, it will move you to tears.
It will not be an overstatement to point out how unabashedly Asian the film is. Whether it’s in showing Peik Lin and her family’s over-the-top nouveau riche lifestyle, a family gathering scene around the table making dumplings, Eleanor’s talk about sacrifices that need to be made to keep traditions alive and one memorable confrontation over a Mahjong game, it wears its identity proudly. Even said wedding is themed around a paddy field.
Filipino fans will love the cameo by actress Kris Aquino, who plays a Malay princess. And a brief appearance by Harry Shum Jr of Glee and Step Up fame is sure to keep talks of a sequel buzzing for a long time.
The biggest takeaway though, is how the film portrays its women. Writers Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli have managed to craft strong female characters, who, despite some of their unfortunate circumstances — like Gemma Chan as Nick’s cousin Astrid who’s stuck in an unhappy marriage — hold their own. Wu’s Rachel, for instance, is no wide-eyed damsel whose life is haplessly thrown into a spin after she meets her Prince Charming. She gracefully faces her detractors and has no time to apologise for her past or copious tears to spare for her missteps. And Yeoh’s steely Eleanor is the foundation of her family’s empire, holding the fort down while her husband is too busy building it.
Crazy Rich Asians then, is eventually a celebration of women, and is unafraid to say that every one of them deserves their fairy tale, Asian or not.
Don’t miss it
Crazy Rich Asians releases in the UAE on August 16.