Crazy Rich Asians is Sex and the City in Singapore. There’s a 30-something New Yorker seeking love. There’s a glamorous metropolitan city. And the fashions? They’re just fabulous.
But underneath all the glitz and glam is a film filled with style and heart. Adapted from Kevin Kwan’s novel with the same name — “Crazy Rich Asians” is a love story; A love story about romantic love and familial love, and how the two can be difficult to balance.
NYU professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is invited by her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding and meet his family. On their trip east, she learns that they are rich. Crazy rich. But the family matriarch Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) quickly makes it clear no woman is good enough for her son, especially a foreigner. Nick ensures Rachel he still loves her anyway, but the influence of his mother and upper society may force them apart.
While it’s not the most original plot, Crazy Rich Asians has an extraordinary cast and setting. It’s the first major studio film in 25 years to feature Asian Americans in leading roles. And the majority of the film was shot in Singapore, which has a large Chinese population.
That’s what makes the film so important to all audiences, not just Asians. It showcases, quite authentically, Asian norms and traditions. They can be funny (Rachel stuns Eleanor by hugging her when they first meet — an inappropriate sign of affection) or heartwarming (the family sitting around the table wrapping dumplings — a ritual this reviewer’s family also does during the holidays). There are the obvious power dynamics (Rachel and Eleanor vying for Nick’s attention) and the subtle ones (Eleanor is still deferential to her mother-in-law — Nick’s ama).
Sure, there are moments of over-the-top ridiculousness: the groom’s bachelor party takes place on a barge in international waters. The lavish wedding ceremony includes a princess and a gown that has to be seen to be believed. And laughs abound, courtesy of this year’s breakout star Awkwafina, who plays Rachel’s college friend, and her on-screen dad Ken Jeong — two nouveau riche Asians.
But they too, like all the characters, are navigating their roles — and their loves — in this traditional and hierarchical structure. There’s cousin Oliver (portrayed brilliantly by Nico Santos), who is the black sheep for being gay, but secretly carries out all of Eleanor’s dirty work. And cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), whose seemingly perfect life belies an unhappy marriage. She too married for love instead of money, so knows what Nick is going through.
Is Crazy Rich Asians Good?
Crazy Rich Asians’ story may not be groundbreaking, but this is a film that has many Hollywood firsts: depicting Asian men as desirable, the complicated relationships between Asian families, and immigrants versus natives. And it’s got style in spades. Glitz, glam, and fam. What more could you ask for?