Movie Review: Crazy Rich Asians
By Felix Quinonez
August 30, 2018
The wildly entertaining Crazy Rich Asians, directed by John Chu, is so vibrant and colorful that it practically pops off the screen. It’s a party of a movie with plenty of heart and it also serves as a massive step forward for representation on the big screen. Wasting no time, the movie sinks its hooks into the viewers from the very first scene and remains captivating throughout, never losing momentum or feeling like it’s dragging on.
This is, no doubt, helped by the extraordinary cast. And aside from being an all-around great movie, it’s beautifully shot. There are so many breathtaking locales that it’s not a farfetched to think that it could promote tourism to Singapore. And the movie has so many shots that lovingly linger on the delicious looking cuisine that, at times, it feels like food porn. (Seriously, prepare to leave the theater hungry.)
The movie centers on the Romance between Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) an NYU economics professor and Nick Young, (Henry Golding) her handsome, if somewhat mysterious boyfriend. It initially seems that he doesn’t do much beside eat Rachel’s dessert and being attractive.
In a seemingly, inconspicuous turn of events, Nick invites Rachel to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore and kicks the adventure off. It quickly becomes clear that things aren’t exactly as they seem with Nick. While out with Rachel, it’s apparent that his every move is being watched by what appear to be strangers. And in one of the movie’s many delightful sequences, the news that he is, not only, dating Rachel but bringing her to the wedding, travels all over the world. It’s a visually stylish scene that cleverly utilizes phone screens, emojis, and fast cuts to show that Nick isn’t just some guy.
Naturally, she’s nervous to meet his friends and family but the wedding also provides a chance for Rachel to get to know Nick a little better. And on the way there, she finds out a small detail he forgot to mention. It turns out he’s rich and not just rich but crazy rich.
And there, she has to contend with a jealous ex-lover, a disapproving mother who claims Rachel will never be enough, and obnoxious relatives. Through it all their love is tested. On its own, the story isn’t necessarily groundbreaking or even all that original but as always, it’s the execution that matters. And in that respect, Crazy Rich Asians is a delightful revelation.
Like any romantic comedy, the chemistry between its leads is crucial. And fortunately, Nick and Rachel have plenty of that. Constance Wu and Henry Golding make for a picture-perfect movie star couple. Because of that, their love story is always engaging and makes you care about them and cheer for them as they face various obstacles.
In fact, they are so great together that they could easily carry the movie on their own but the movie is so generous that it surrounds them with a stellar supporting cast. They all seem to be having such a great time that their energy is infectious.
It’s the rare movie without any weak links in the cast. Awkwafina (Nora Lum), plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s college roommate. And she makes for a superb, always entertaining, sidekick who, at times, plays the fairy godmother role of this fairy tale. Ken Jeong plays Peik Lin’s father and, clearly relishing the role, welcomes the part of comic relief. He is “new rich” and has the over the top wardrobes to go along with that. In one of the movie’s funniest scenes, he reprimands one of his younger daughters who won’t finish her food by telling her that, “there are children starving in America!”
Although Rachel and Nick’s romance is at the forefront, the movie does still have a few other side story lines. One of the most intriguing of them involves, Nick’s cousin Astrid. (Gemma Chan) She’s a very successful woman who, is unfortunately married to an insecure man. It’s a pleasure to see her regain her confidence throughout the movie. The movie also seems to hint that if there is a sequel, she might have a more central role in it. Oliver (Nico Santos) is also wildly entertaining. He is nick’s cousin who bends over backwards to make sure things run smoothly at the wedding. Fortunately, he also becomes one of Rachel’s allies.
Although Nick’s mom, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is technically one of the antagonists, she never comes off as a one-dimensional villain. It has been reported that Yeoh actually fought to have her character not fall into the “dragon lady” cliché. And the movie is all the better for it. Eleanor is intimidating and when called for, cold but still well rounded and sympathetic. It’s a tightrope act that Yeoh handles perfectly. She makes it easy to care about her even if she is trying to keep the love birds apart.
On the other hand, it, initially, seems that Rachel’s mom, Kerry, (Tan Kheng Hua) won’t be an important part of the movie but she is still given her own time to shine. Hua’s sweet performance serves the character well and she instills the movie with an undeniable warmth, even with limited screen time.
Her backstory turned out to be more complicated than it, initially, seemed and perhaps more so than it needed to be. But that just adds to the feeling that the movie is populated with real, fully fleshed out people, not just stock characters. That’s a lesson all of Hollywood could stand to learn.
Although it’s a very fun movie, arguably the best time you’re going to have at a theater this year, that doesn’t mean that it’s lacking substance. Aside from having a genuinely touching romance at the center, the movie also touches on other important issues. It delves into social class dynamics as well as racial identity issues in an honest way. And the movie has a way of sneaking up on you, emotionally, when you least expect it. Rachel is coldly reminded that there is a distinction between being Chinese and Chinese-American. That’s treatment that is all too familiar to many first-generation Americans or immigrants that grew up in the US.
In what is turning out to be an important summer for representation on the big screen, Crazy Rich Asians could almost be seen as a companion piece to BlacKkKlansman, directed by Spike Lee. That movie also has a cast mostly made up of people of color and has its own share of laughter. However, BlacKkKlansman was, an often hard to watch, reminder of how far we still have to go. On the other hand, Crazy Rich Asians feels like a celebration.
It is however, still sad to think that such a wildly talented cast goes mostly overlooked because Hollywood decided that there isn’t an audience for them. (Read: they’re not white)
But the movie’s success, along with others like Black Panther, Coco, and Get Out, will hopefully go a long way to silence those who believe that in order for a movie to succeed, it needs a white cast. That’s certainly a step forward but perhaps a bigger step would be to finally stop treating people of color as if we need to earn the right to star in our own stories.
Felix Quiñonez Jr. is an independent comic book creator living in Brooklyn, NY.
His self-published comic books and graphic novel have been sold in stores in NYC and online. He is the co-editor and contributor of a comic book Anthology called Emanata. That book features the work of many other talented creators from all around the country. You can check out his comic books and read more of his writing here.