Review: Crazy Rich Asians is an Enchanting Celebration of Asian Culture with an Award-Worthy Performance by Constance Wu.
Crazy Rich Asians is the highly anticipated film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s beloved novel of the same name. The film follows a passionate New York Economics Professor named Rachel (Constance Wu), who has been dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) for quite some time. When Nick learns about his best friend’s wedding back in Singapore, he sees this as the perfect opportunity to bring Rachel along and introduce her to his family. However, Rachel doesn’t know much about Nick’s family including the fact that Nick just so happens to be from one of the wealthiest families in all of Asia. Can Rachel, a middle-class Asian American win over Nick’s family and friends despite their social and economic differences?
In my eyes, Crazy Rich Asians is the rom-com event of the year. It is in a lot of ways the Marvel movie equivalent of romantic comedies. It felt like everyone that I know has been talking about this film for the past six months to a year. Crazy Rich Asians was one of the most anticipated films of the summer, and I am happy to report that the film not only lives up to the hype but surpasses it. I truly believe that fans of the book are going to be very happy with what Jon M. Chu, Peter Chiarelli, and Adele Lim have done with Kevin Kwan’s source material.
The film opens in 1995 where we first meet Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), as she is trying to check into a London hotel. However, the rude and seemingly judgemental staff refuse to give her a room. Little do these men know that Eleanor’s husband has recently purchased the hotel. As they hotel clerks call the owner, they are shocked to find out that the woman standing in front of them is not only the new Hotel owner but is married to one of the wealthiest men in the entire world.
This opening scene does a phenomenal job of introducing Eleanor Young and showcasing what her personality is like. You learn during this scene that Eleanor Young is not someone who you would want to mess with. She has no time for games and isn’t going to allow anyone to disrespect her or treat her poorly.
Flash forward to 2018 where Rachel and Nick are enjoying dinner and drinks at a New York restaurant. As Nick tells Rachel about his plan to bring her back to Singapore for his friend’s wedding, a noisy passerby snaps a photo and texts it to a friend. In no more than 10-15 minutes, that photo of Nick and Rachel goes viral in Singapore as the rich socialities begin to research Rachel as they wait for Nick to return home.
The story at this point begins to dissect how the lives of Asian Americans differ from the lives of those who are born and raised in Singapore. Rachel comes across as this happy-go-lucky middle-class woman with a good job and a simple life. Despite her boyfriend coming from riches, he also seems to be happy. So, when the two arrive at the airport, Rachel begins to see just a small glimpse of how wealthy Nick’s family really is. They fly first class in an airplane that makes Air Force One look like a hooptie. Rachel feels uncomfortable being on this fancy plane but tries to remain calm because she loves Nick and is trying not to be discouraged by her financial situation.
Once the couple arrives in Singapore, they meet up with Colin (Chris Pang) and his fiancee Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) for dinner. They indulge in a variety of Asian-eclectic dishes. I loved this scene because I felt like it showcased how Colin and Araminta were in a lot of ways similar to Nick and Rachel despite living in Singapore. They don’t seem like they let fortune go to their head. They have this relaxed outlook on life that is about enjoying life rather than worrying about wealth and lifestyle.
After dinner, Rachel meets up with Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina), a friend from college that lives in Singapore with her family. Goh Peik Lin and her family live in a lovely house, but they aren’t considered wealthy, at least not by Asian standards. This scene is probably one of the funniest scenes in the entire film because not only does Awkwafina bring big laughs but Ken Jeong as her father is great as well. I don’t know who the actor is who plays Goh Peik Lin’s awkward brother, but he was also hilarious. I love that they made his character so weird and creepy.
It is during this scene where Rachel reveals that she is dating Nick Young. Goh Peik Lin is so shocked by this news that she offers to help dress Rachel for the evening and agrees to drive her to the Young estate. When Rachel and Peik Lin arrive at the mansion, their reactions are priceless. Rachel instantly feels out of place again but tries her hardest to fit in amongst the wealthy socialites. She reunites with Nick who tries to protect her from being bombarded by people, but clearly, everyone wants to meet the girl that Nick is dating. Rachel has a lot of awkward encounters with various family members including several of Nick’s cousins.
When Rachel meets Nick’s mom for the first time, the meeting doesn’t go nearly as well as she hoped. In their initial conversation, Eleanor belittles Rachel about her upbringing and the idea that she went to school to follow her passion. She makes this big speech about how her parents should have pushed her to be successful rather than pursuing her dream.
Throughout the rest of the film, Rachel continues to struggle as she tries to fit in with Nick’s friends and family members. She gets threatened while at a bachelorette party and is always looked down upon. As Rachel keeps trying to fit in, she continues to be met by rejection from nearly everyone. The only person that Rachel forms a friendship with is Araminta because she understands Rachel and where she is coming from and only wants her to be happy.
Crazy Rich Asians is all about Rachel, and Constance Wu delivers an Oscar-caliber performance. Wu’s portrayal of Rachel may seem easy to play on the surface, but in reality, this character is incredibly complex and multi-faceted. I realize that many people have read the book so I can probably talk about details that shape Rachel as a person, but I don’t want to spoil it for anyone. Let’s just say that during the third act something is revealed about Rachel’s childhood. Constance Wu’s performance is so terrific because she embraces the material and pours her heart and soul into this performance. There is a scene near the end of the film where Rachel and Eleanor play mahjong. The conversation that occurs during that scene is next level acting. You can feel the passion and the pain as Wu delivers every single line of dialogue during this scene. When she finishes, you want to stand up and applaud her. Yes, she’s that good.
There are so many actors involved in this film, and while I want to talk about each one of them in great detail, if I did, this review would be as long as the book that inspired the film. So, to keep this as short as possible, I need to point out that every single actor played his or her part incredibly well no matter how big or small his or her role was. I honestly believe that there was not a single weak link amongst the entire cast.
In regards to the primary cast, I found Henry Golding to be charming as hell. His chemistry with Wu so felt natural, and whenever the two were together, they lit up the screen. Gemma Chan as Astrid was terrific and I loved the storyline between her and her husband. I do look forward to seeing and learning more about her in future installments. Awkinfina as Goh Peik Lin is a scene stealer. It is really hard to not call Awkinfina this year’s Tiffany Haddish because they are both talented women of color that take control of a scene whenever on-screen. Even their line delivery is sort of similar. Awkinfina has such comedic timing paired with excellent line delivery. Did I mention that her outfits in this film only add to her personality? They do.
Last but certainly not least is Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor. Yeoh’s portrays Eleanor as a stubborn mother that is cold and cruel. Even though the character comes across as very mean and angry, Yeoh’s performance never comes across as cartoonish. Instead, she plays Eleanor as a woman who was raised with strict rules and values. She is a woman that is resistant to change. She knows what she wants for her children and will not allow for anyone to get in the way of her beliefs or family. She’s a hard ass but one who became that way over time due to her life and upbringing. It is through Eleanor that we see and learn the differences between her life and Rachel’s life which also shows how American culture differs from Asian culture.
Director Jon M. Chu has outdone himself with this film and has taken his career to another level. I thought that Now You See Me 2 was a ton of fun and I enjoyed the hell out of the cast and the magic acts. Also, despite the critically bashing, I found Jem and The Holograms to be enjoyable for what it was. Crazy Rich Asians, however, is Chu’s most prominent and best film to date. The scale of this movie is completely insane from the lavish mansions to the extravagant wardrobe to the party ships. The entire movie looks and feels so incredibly expensive.
It should also be mentioned that while the story can be rather predictable at times, it never took away from my enjoyment of the film. Chu paces the film in such a way that everything just moves along effortlessly. At no point does the film ever drag and there aren’t any scenes that come to mind that felt too long or too short. While watching the film, I felt like Chu must have had so much material to pick from because there are so many characters and stories. Chu must have spent months in the editing room with Myron I. Kerstein making sure that everything fit just right for the final cut.
I would be doing the film a great disservice if I didn’t mention how lively the film is and how colorful the film looked. Cho’s career started in shooting music videos and the way that he captures Singapore really does take the film visually to a whole another level. Also, the soundtrack choices are killer. The film features several covers of beloved pop songs including Madonna’s Material Girl and Coldplay’s Yellow. Be prepared to have these songs stuck in your head while exiting the theater.
While Crazy Rich Asians is a celebration of Asian culture, it doesn’t mean that you have to be of Asian descent to fall in love with it. The story, characters, and the themes are universal, and I feel like everyone can appreciate this film. This isn’t just a great romantic comedy but a film that is all about being different, believing in yourself, and fighting for what you believe in. Crazy Rich Asians is a feel-great film and one that is destined to become a classic. I foresee people watching this film over and over again. I am already very excited about the sequel.
Scott ‘Movie Man’ Menzel’s rating for Crazy Rich Asians is a 9 out of 10.