Crazy Rich Asians tells a story of traditions while breaking Hollywood’s own troubled tradition with all-Asian casts
Having been squeezed dry, the romantic comedy genre has been lacking as of late. Nevertheless, the straightforward genre is still beloved by movie-goers no matter how many times the same old story seems to be recycled. Crazy Rich Asians takes a formulaic yet easily accessible approach to tell a story that has been sidelined for so many years. Its outline may be familiar but its content is as rich as the film’s main family.
Crazy Rich Asians boasts an all-Asian cast, something that hasn’t been done since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. Constance Wu brings to life Rachel Chu, a New Yorker who is smart, elegant and extremely relatable. Her boyfriend, played by the dashing Henry Golding, is none other than Nick Young, Singapore’s wealthiest bachelor. Without knowledge of her boyfriend’s status, Rachel is brought to Singapore where she witnesses just how much money this family truly has.
It doesn’t take much time for our lovebirds to go to Singapore. When they arrive, Crazy Rich Asians wastes no time showing just how much expensive things one family can really own. We meet Nick’s family filled with obnoxious and snobby rich cousins and siblings. However, none are as intimidating as the family’s old-fashioned matriarch Eleanor, played by the magnificent Michelle Yeoh. She disapproves of her son’s new girlfriend and would do anything to preserve the family tradition. Together, they create one of cinemas’ most dynamic and colorful Asian family.
And what better way than to celebrate such a cinematic accomplishment than to indulge in luxury. For the first half of the film, director Jon M. Chu is showcasing Asian cuisine, Chinese culture and great wealth. The audience is invited in celebrating the accomplishment by visiting big party boats with swimming pools, private islands with unlimited massages, and all you can eat buffets.
But wealth can only get you so far and that’s true even for a film. Luckily, Chu has more to say than just party and diamonds. About halfway through, Crazy Rich Asians steps back to explore its central relationship and Chinese filial piety. It adds an unexpected depth that most rom-coms today often forget, exploring themes of immigration, tradition, and family all within the context of modern-day China. It’s impressive just how Chu is able to create within what may be the most restrictive genre in Hollywood. The most striking of all, he subverts the male gaze by sexualizing and filming Asian men’s bodies and challenging the old stereotype that Asian men are unattractive.
However, there are moments where the film isn’t so clever. Awkwafina’s Peik Lin and her family serve only as comic reliefs and never really add anything interesting to the overall story. But it’s Henry’s cousin Astrid, played by Gemma Chan, that finds herself in the film’s only misfire. The attempt to mirror her character’s love life with Rachel’s never achieves the reciprocal influence it reaches for.
Besides, Chu’s goal with Kevin Kwan’s book is to create a fun accessible film for everyone to enjoy and for the most part, the romantic comedy genre works magic for him. There’s plenty to love elsewhere and rom-com devotees will undoubtedly fall in love with the film’s narrative flow. However, even for movie-goers who find themselves sick of the old formula, will find that Crazy Rich Asians offers a unique story told in an exciting and extravagant fashion. If you still find yourself unsure, grab your date or your hopeless romantic friend, stop to get some dumplings, and a fun time will no doubt ensue.
Crazy Rich Asians comes out on August 17.