Directed by Jon M. Chu. Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong.
The Plot: Rachel (Constance Wu) is a self-made woman who lectures on Economics in New York. She’s been in a loving relationship with Nick (Henry Golding) for the past year, but he thinks it’s time for their relationship to move up a notch. He’s taking her to Singapore to meet his family and attend the wedding of his cousin. The otherwise humble Nick neglects to tell her that his family is the richest in Singapore. When she arrives, she’s thrust into a dazzling world of wealth, opulent houses and the high society of the city. She’s met with a somewhat frosty reception by Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, who regards her as an outsider and unworthy of her son. But Rachel, determined as ever, has her own ideas about her future…
The Verdict: Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians has turned up on these shores a little earlier than expected. When it hit the number one spot in the US recently, Warner Brothers realised that they had a sleeper hit on their hands and swiftly moved its release date here forward by two months. That’s the film industry for you. Legendary screenwriter William Goldman was right – nobody knows anything, nobody knows for a certainty what’s going to work. It’s not hard to see why the film has had such appeal though. It’s unashamedly a crowd-pleaser, a pleasant romcom awash with money – but with an Asian twist. At a time when diversity is a keyword in industry conversations, it’s positive and encouraging news.
The film is at its best when the always excellent Yeoh is onscreen. Bringing an air of grace and dignity to her role, she dismisses any notions of a boo-hissable mother and gives her a purpose that carries on through generations in her family. The film is spot-on in its depiction of Asian notions of conservatism, honour and commitment to the family. Wu is good too, holding her own and keeping Rachel grounded. There’s a well-played scene between Yeoh and Wu late in the film which hints at an internal struggle between these two basically decent characters. The less said about Awkwafina’s irritating motormouth character the better – she could give Tiffany Haddish a run for her money.
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t fully work. Try as it may, Crazy Rich Asians can’t escape from the fact that deep down it’s rather shallow, frilly entertainment – the kind that romcoms rely far too heavily on. There’s nothing revolutionary going on here, no attempt to reverse-engineer the modern romcom like (500) Days Of Summer did so successfully. Instead, director Jon M. Chu is content with keeping things safe, following the standard romcom playbook (disapproving parents, wildcard but loyal friend, boy troubles, race to the airport). The film revels in its glittering glossiness and bling, but it’s all a bit too shallow. Given that Chu has directed G.I. Joe: Retaliation and, erm, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, subtlety is clearly not his style.
Crazy Rich Asians is fine for what it is – a glitzy romcom featuring exotic locations and a good sense of humour that can play to a broad audience, not just an Asian one. However, it’s hard to escape the fact that there is a better film in here somewhere, one where the glitz and noise is toned down and character development is turned up to deliver something a bit more honest and meaningful. Passable viewing, but not likely to linger long in the memory.