Unless you’ve been sleeping under a rock, Hollywood lacks diversity. It’s rare when films featuring people of color make it past the Indie realm and into the mainstream world. In recent years, several films have made the push to challenge mainstream Hollywood. Films like Moonlight and Hidden Figures have shown that movies featuring black actors and actresses can make money (since money is what Hollywood is all about) and win awards, but even with these breakthroughs, actors and actresses of color have yet to steal the spotlight in Hollywood. Hollywood culture still lacks a spot for black, Latinx, Native American, and East and South Asian people. Asians, especially, barely have a stage in Hollywood, and when they do, it involves heavy stereotypes and type-casting.
Enter Crazy Rich Asians, the soapy film based on the Kevin Kwang novel of the same name. The film boasts a strong Asian and Asian-American cast featuring Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), rapper/actress Awkwafina, comedian Ken Jeong (Community, The Hangover), Glee-alum Harry Shum Jr., TV host Henry Golding, the divine Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), and Gemma Chan (Botherhood, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them). Crazy Rich Asians is one of the first majority-Asian casts in a Hollywood film this past decade. Hopefully, it will not be the last. Of course, despite being one of the few Hollywood films with a majority-Asian cast, the cast has come under fire (because people can, and will, find fault with everything). Some consider the cast “not Asian enough” due to the casting of mixed-raced actors, or that it does not have enough Singaporean actors and actresses (the story is set in Singapore), and it’s caught flak for not featuring Singaporean minority groups (Indians, Malaysians, and Indonesians among others).
However, through the complaints, people fail to see that, in Hollywood, Asians are often neglected, and having any movie featuring Asians and Asian-Americans is a victory and stepping stone for others. Besides, Crazy Rich Asians is about a small social caste living in Singapore, not Asians in Asia as a whole.
Crazy Rich Asians is what the title suggests: It is a romantic-comedy about a prosperous Asian family. Nick Young (Golding) is the center of the story that documents his relationship with Queens-born N.Y.U professor, Rachel Chu (Wu). The two are a perfect pair despite their class differences, so they are a couple worth cheering even though Nick tends to be bland. As they embark on a trip to Singapore to attend a wedding, their differences come out in a big way as Young’s family takes it upon themselves to scrutinize Rachel as romantic rivals also come out to play.
All this drama equates one hell of a delicious soap-opera on the big screen.
As per the romantic-comedy formula, Nick and Rachel have plenty of obstacles to overcome before love can win. Clashes between younger and older generations, romantic adversaries, traditionalism and modernity, and family loyalty and true love unfold in often hilarious sequences that help make the family and drama somewhat relatable to those even outside the très riche club. While often melodramatic and sometimes over-the-top (like Nick’s mother buying a hotel after being insulted by the manager), the writing and execution of the storyline is not annoying and still remains grounded in some realism to where the film avoids being farcical.
Director Jon M. Chu does well condensing a 500-page book into under two hours without a lot of compromise to the original story. Of course, there are some characters missing, some changed, and some moments left out that could have explained some key moments to the audience better. For example, while the sets show the Young family’s decadent lifestyle, the sets don’t come close to the pages (literally pages upon pages) of juicy details explaining the opulent lifestyle they experience. Other key moments, such as Eleanor’s (Yeoh) private investigation of Rachel and Michael (Pierre Png) and Astrid’s (Chan) relationship play out differently in the film than in the book, which makes the story arcs feel a bit off at times. However, all the subtleties from these stories could not be added or else the movie would be several hours long. As far as a book-to-movie adaption goes, Chu did a good job to where someone who didn’t read the book can understand the content.
Character-wise, casting was spot-on for the roles. Yeoh’s interpretation of Eleanor is fantastic, especially given Yeoh’s natural sophisticated demeanor. At times, it’s easy to liken her to Gilmore Girls’ Emily Gilmore given her loyalty to family and tradition. Her delivery is consistent and well done. Wu’s portrayal of Rachel is also well-done, and she’s actually how book-Rachel is imagined to be right down to the subtle facial expressions. However, Awkwafina’s portrayal of Peik Lin, Jeong’s role as Goh Wye Mun, and Nico Santos as gay-cousin Oliver are outstanding and provide the right amount of comic relief. Oliver is stereotypically gay, which is a bit overdone in movies where a gay character is featured (seriously, people in the LGBTQA+ community are not always stereotypes, so each character in media doesn’t need to be stereotyped to get across that the character is, indeed, gay), but he’s also portrayed well in the film. The characters of Goh Wye, Peik Lin, and Oliver thankfully have larger roles in the film than in the book, and the audience should be considered blessed for this positive, humorous turn.
Golding’s Nick is on the bland side, however. He’s handsome, but he’s also stuffy. At times, its clear Golding isn’t as sharp acting-wise as his costars, so in some pivotal moments, his character doesn’t come across as authentic. These moments are often seen when he’s with Yeoh, but he does have chemistry with Wu, thus balancing out the flaws.
Crazy Rich Asians, of course is a romantic-comedy, so it will have the typical, predictable rom-com ending. The lead-up to that point is fun and enjoyable, making the film worthwhile. Crazy Rich Asians earns a 4/5 and is a must-see.