August 13, 2018

CINEMA | Looking So 'Crazy Rich Asians' in Love

"You will never be enough."
Chris Pang Sonoya Mizuno Jon M. Chu Kevin Kwan | Crazy Rich Asians

Asian-Americans have been patiently waiting for this. Director Jon M. Chu's adaptation of the super sweet yet sinister romantic comedy, based on Kevin Kwan's internationally bestselling novel, is an exhilarating cinematic experience living up to its audacious subject matter and highly accurate title in spades. Full of universal Asian themes of fractured cultural identities and family obligation, Crazy Rich Asians is a smashing ode to Southeast Asian luxury culture.

Starring Constance Wu as Rachel, an NYU economics professor and daughter of an immigrant single mother, among an internationally Asian cast, she grounds the crazy antics of the super rich in Singapore in a world-wind journey. When Rachel's low-key super wealthy boyfriend Nick, travel host turned first-time leading man Henry Golding, takes her home to meet his dubious extended family full of ridiculous characters, her world is flipped upside forever.

Wu's everywoman quality sparkles against Golding spectacularly chiseled good looks with just enough personality to make his appeal clear. Her grace, talent, and chemistry with the deep cast really propel the broad humour of the film.

The story's tension comes from what who is willing to sacrifice and the ultimate happiness of the characters. As an American, Rachel is scrutinized for prioritizing passion and desire while the older Asian women characters, a steely-eyed Michelle Yeoh and imposing Lisa Lu as Nick's icy mother and intimidating matriarch grandmother, reaffirm their duty to controlling their families' destinies.

Constance Wu Ronny Chieng Jon M. Chu Kevin Kwan | Crazy Rich Asians

What's most surprising and refreshing is how overtly feminist the film adaptation is. The narrative is almost exclusively focused on strong women and their roles in keeping their families together. Most of the men, while perfectly fine, are side characters who exist to react to the female characters' stories.

The fine cast also features Gemma Chan who has a nice, sympathetic (however, completely unnecessary) arc as a repressed wife (and Nick's cousin) struggling to balance her fleeting marriage while the luminous Awkwafina livens things up as Rachel's quirky college friend and confidante. There are plenty of rom-com tropes and archetypes, but it mostly works as the film makes refreshing takes on stock characters like the gay sidekick and typical mean girls.

Screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli streamline the book's more complex, highwire soap opera storylines to focus on the vacation aspect of the story and all of its the luxury. The film has a nice emotionality and throughline to the gaudy surroundings and sleazy antics of half the male characters. The distinction between Asians in Asia versus Asian raised abroad and the tension between warring cultures and priorities is also particularly refreshing.

There's also a clear musical quality to the film adaptation with quick transitions and cues set to Chinese-language cover versions of American pop songs. Chu's dazzling direction really makes the opulence and ornate production design, including possibly the most spectacular wedding sequence put to screen, really pop.

Crazy Rich Asians has the unenviable task of trying to be all things to all Asians. It surely does not live to that impossible expectation but does a lot, nonetheless. How it juggles so many global Asian ideals (and follies) about sacrifice and happiness in such an entertaining package full of Cinderella style affluence porn is superb. Chu has done right by Kwan's material of Asian excess.


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