Starring Constance Wu Henry Golding Gemma Chan Lisa Lu Awkwafina. Directed by Jon M. Chu.
We are in the middle of a real sea of change in Hollywood. Earlier this year Love, Simon became the first big studio film to focus on a gay teenage romance, and did so in a funny and warming way. Similarly, Crazy Rich Asians is a big budget studio rom-com, with an all Asian cast, that looks to provide us with what the world needs: joy.
The film sees university professor Rachel Chu travel to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young for the wedding of his best friend, only to discover he is heir to a vast fortune and the most eligible man in Asia. Not only this, but she must contend with his intense family and overbearing mother.
Crazy Rich Asians is a joyous thing, a film that delivers what you want from big Hollywood rom-coms: escapism of the highest kind. Just because the film is rooted in East Asian culture doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyed by everyone, and director Jon M. Chu delivers a crowd pleaser on every front. Chu is a director not perhaps known for having a visual style; his past directorial efforts include: Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D, Justin Beiber: Never Say Never, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Justin Beiber’s Believe, Jem and the Holograms and Now You See Me 2, but, surprisingly, here Chu tapping into his inner fairytale director works very well.
Chu is not giving us a stuffy piece of East Asian history here, nor a drama about the current complexities of the continent’s politics; what’s he’s giving us is a glimpse into a cultural sub-set and lavishing visual style, and a good dose of fun on top of it. Much like Four Weddings and a Funeral offered a look at the middle class British around weddings, this does for Asia what My Big Fat Greek Wedding did for the Greek community.
It’s impressive to see a film that shows off just how many great Asian actors there are currently working. Constance Wu, best known for Fresh off the Boat, is exactly the kind of a lead you need for a film like this. Immediately likeable, and funny, but someone who can be both “strong” and “vulnerable”, which is to say, she can play a human being. Wu has such an easy charm that no matter the situation, she has the audience rooting for her in the same way we might a Colin Firth or Hugh Grant type in a Richard Curtis movie.
It helps that around her is an ensemble up to the challenge of rounding out the cast; with any of these wedding-themed films there’s always an assortment of characters to enjoy and here is no different. The various members of the family come in for a scene or two and deliver jokes that have the audience roaring, but it’s the work of a select few that really hit home.
Michelle Yeoh is perfect as the matriarch of the family, sternly commanding the screen. It’s easy to forget, but Yeoh has been a steady force of Asian female representation in Hollywood and in movies, her role here reminds us why she was a Bond girl in Tomorrow Never Dies and became an icon on Asia for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon as well as Memoirs of a Geisha.
Leading man Henry Golding does well as the wealthy handsome man at the centre though he doesn’t get much to do but be desirable, perhaps because he is supposed to be the object which so many romantic comedies pivot on. Even so, he’s charming enough that you can buy into people wanting to be with him for who he is.
The other standouts of the film are Awkwafina as Wu’s bestie Goh Peik Lin, who’s voice a cross between a millennial and a chain-smoking 40-year-old white woman, making for some of the best laughs in the film. Ken Jeong is her father with a weird Elvis style haircut, Nico Santos plays Nick’s gay cousin, and Gemma Chan is the caring cousin who holds the emotional bulk of the film on her very able shoulders.
The story is syrup, but in these times is there anything wrong with that? The world needs to laugh more, and when the story isn’t trying to teach you anything or be more than just a fun romp, then it’s easy to get sucked into the story and by the end, find yourself moved by what you’ve seen.
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For representation, this is an important film, one that should make a movie star out of its star Constance Wu, and that hopefully means there will be less white people hogging Asian centric films. It’s time we got more of these, and with a sequel on the way, we should see more Asian voices talking up about their place in the world.
But, taking all of that out of the equation, there is a very basic truth of the film: it’s fun. And as people seek to separate us, watching a film in which people fall in love, laugh, cry and forge relationships may very well remind us of one thing – we’re all human, and we all belong on this planet together, and we should all stand together, or in the case of the film, sit together in a dark screen and laugh at some crazy rich asians.