Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

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Nick and Rachel are in love. They’ve been dating for over a year, live together, and share absolutely everything with each other. Well, not quite everything. See Rachel, a college professor from a working class background, doesn’t realize that Nick is actually from the Young family, the richest and most famous real estate developers in all of Singapore. So when she journeys with him to Asia to attend a wedding, she is blindsided by the sheer opulence with which his family lives. Something else she isn’t expecting is the extreme hostility with which Eleanor, Nick’s mother, treats her. See Eleanor doesn’t think that Rachel is good enough for her son. She thinks that Rachel, who’s Chinese-American, is too foreign and uncivilized to marry the heir to a multi-billion dollar estate. But Rachel isn’t giving up. She loves Nick, and she won’t lose him for anything. But can she convince Eleanor that she’s worthy of her son? Watch the movie and find out.

You might be shocked to hear this, but I wasn’t all that excited for the release of Crazy Rich Asians. I know, the guy who constantly writes think pieces about how there needs to be greater Asian visibility doesn’t want to see a movie with an all Asian cast. Outrageous. But there’s actually a few reasons for why I felt that way. For starters, I read the book this film is based off of, and I wasn’t a huge fan. (A few too many soap opera twists, if you ask me). On top of this, the director of the movie, Jon M Chu, doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to quality. He made the Step Up sequels, GI Joe Retaliation, and Now You See Me 2. Basically, he’s the guy you give your franchise to when audiences have stopped caring. Finally, everyone kept talking about how this movie was a turning point, how if it did well, it’d open the flood gates for Asian actors and filmmakers, and if it didn’t, it’d close the doors for good. I hate that Hollywood thinks in absolutes, and that people of color, especially Asian Americans, have to constantly prove that they’re worthy of being put on screen. But alas, that’s how it works. So I wasn’t too keen on the fate of artists like myself resting on the shoulders of a mediocre director adapting a mediocre best-seller. But then I saw the cast, and the first reviews came in. And it seemed like maybe, just maybe, this would be the movie we were all hoping for. So I gave it a watch, and, well…

Easily the best things about this movie are the cast, and the visuals. Everything in this film–from the costumes, to the sets, to the color palette–is gorgeous. And as you could probably tell from the posters and trailers, the actors are all extremely attractive. And talented. Seriously, I don’t think there’s a single person in this movie who gives a bad performance. You’ve got Asian actors from all over the world here, with Constance Wu and Awkwafina from the States, Gemma Chan and Sonoya Mizuno from the UK, Chris Pang from Australia, and so, so many others, just bringing their A game. There’s even cameos in here from prominent Asian American YouTubers, musicians and comedians. It’s kind of amazing how much talent they managed to cram into this two hour movie. People have singled out Awkwafina and Constance Wu for praise, and rightly so, but two actors I don’t think should be overlooked are Henry Golding and Sonoya Mizuno. Sonoya’s been in a lot of movies recently, like Ex Machina, where she’s basically been forced to be a quiet Asian stereotype, but she’s not like that here. In this movie, she’s funny, energetic, and very, very talkative. So that was refreshing. And Henry Golding, whom plays Nick, is effortlessly charming and likable. And his performance is made all the more impressive when you realize that this is his first film role. Yeah. You’d never guess that to look at him. The dude’s naturally charismatic. And so, so handsome. So it’s a good looking movie, with good performances, and even a few good jokes. I actually chuckled a lot more than I ever thought I would. So for all these reasons, plus the fact that Hollywood is viewing this as a litmus test for Asian American box office viability, I say go see it.

But go in with tempered expectations. This is not the Asian Black Panther. It’s a mid-budget romantic comedy, whose leads just happen to be Asian. As a result, it’s full of cliches, melodramatic twists, and some annoying side characters. Yes, no one gives a bad performance, but there are certain people in the movie, like Ronny Chang, whom plays one of Nick’s cousins, and Fiona Xie, the girlfriend of one of Nick’s old classmates, who distract from the main plot, and could easily be removed from the picture. On top of this, the filmmakers decided to make some changes to the source material that I don’t quite understand. See, in both the film and the book, Nick’s cousin, Astrid, finds out her husband is having an affair. But at the end of the book, we realize that he isn’t actually. He was just pretending to so that she’d leave him. He’s the head of a tech start up who didn’t come from money, and he can’t deal with her snobbish family. As a result of her finding out the truth, they stay together, but there’s some lingering tension, particularly with regards to her old boyfriend, whom it’s implied she actually had an affair with. In the movie, he’s just cheating on her, and she leaves him, and there’s no mention of her old boyfriend. While they likely did this to make her a more active, strong character, it took away some of the nuance (wow, I can’t believe I just said that about Crazy Rich Asians) present in the book.

Still, if I’m being honest with myself, I liked this movie. It’s beautiful to look at, very well-acted, and I hope to God that it does usher in a new era of Asian-led Hollywood films. I’m not so sure about that, since Hollywood has made plenty of critically and commercially successful movies with all-Asian casts, like The Last Emperor, The Joy Luck Club, and Letters From Iwo Jima, only to then pat themselves on the back for making one inclusive movie, and doing nothing afterwards. But one can always hope. Please support this film.

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