At a superficial, base-level understanding of Crazy Rich Asians, the film might come across as nothing new. It’s a modern take on Pride and Prejudice, a quirky romantic comedy about a man and a woman from two different worlds coming together – but where the magic resides is in its vast love and dedication to the celebration of contemporary Asian culture, and the tremendous amount of care from the cast and crew of this film to make it as much of a classic Hollywood spectacle as possible. There is so much glitz, glamour, Chinese covers of Coldplay and genuine pride radiating off of this flick that its fantastical charm is absolutely irresistible. In the age of whitewashing and orientalism in Hollywood (COUGH Doctor Strange COUGH Ghost in the Shell COUGH), finally getting a mainstream film to represent my culture behind and in front of the camera feels revolutionary in itself.
Based off of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novels, Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel Chu, a professor who unknowingly happens to be dating Nick Young – who comes from one of the richest families in all of Singapore. They go on a summer trip together to a family friend’s wedding, and antics ensue as word of mouth quickly spreads about their relationship through an impressive text and social media sequence. Torn between her American roots and trying her best to impress Nick’s cold and disapproving mother, Rachel learns the value of her own modern values and self-worth.
Make no mistake, this film is unabashedly a wish-fulfillment fantasy if there ever was one. It’s two hours of HOT Asian people indulging in lavish meals, wearing expensive clothing, driving sports cars, and walking around gorgeous interiors. However, there’s a surprising amount of depth and relatability underneath the surface of the story due to its cultural specificity. While this type of tale might conceptually feel stale for certain people, there’s an interesting dynamic added by the fact that our protagonist Rachel is an Asian-American at odds with her own identity. There’s a groundedness in Rachel that keeps us invested in the often alienating and absurdist high life of the Young family.
Rachel may come from a Chinese heritage, but she feels ostracized by the Young family and mega-rich culture of Singapore. This is a fascinating way to interpret and update the story and explore it from an Asian-American lens. It’s totally surprising to watch a rom-com be deep and intelligent enough to explore the contrasts between Western and Eastern Asian values and cultural standards. Crazy Rich Asians stands as another example of how people of color can reimagine and enrich stories from their own worldview. Notably, there’s an entire scene where family conflict is developed through dumpling folding. As Bao demonstrated earlier this year, there’s nothing more authentically Asian than family bonding over food. How about some family drama too?
While the plot stands as refined, but not totally inventive, there’s so much to be said about how this film portrays its characters in contrast to the usual Hollywood cliches. The most refreshing thing about the film is that Asians finally get to escape typecasting and play all types of different roles. From young professors, to developers, to models, to filmmakers and moguls, this film breaks barriers in what it allows its actors to be. Usually, in Western Hollywood films, Asian women are fetishized and Asian men are rendered sexless, but director Jon M. Chu successfully allows both to be fiercely sexy without dehumanization. I might be swayed because never before have I seen a Chinese man like myself be portrayed in a Hollywood movie as desirable, but it felt truly groundbreaking to me (Henry Golding, I’m free on Thursday night).
The neon cityscapes, moonlit drives, and lush island landscapes of Singapore are just the start of how beautiful the presentation is; the production design consistently impresses throughout the runtime of the film. There are striking interiors to be explored, glittery dresses to behold, and pleasing, symmetrical camerawork to tie it all together. It creates an old Hollywood, classical blockbuster feel to the entire film. Crazy Rich Asians is so otherworldly fantastical and shiny that maybe a musical sequence wouldn’t feel so out of place. Needless to say, its entertaining to escape into the elite for a while, and it makes for such a great summer popcorn film. Step aside, Marvel!
The cast of Crazy Rich Asians are all energetic, well rounded, and happy to be doing what they are doing. Constance Wu gives a compelling performance as Rachel to keep the film grounded within the insanity, but there are other major standouts to the cast. Gemma Chan’s performance as Astrid Leong has some of the best emotional beats and a particularly sharp one-liner. Sonoya Mizuno as Araminta Lee owns some of my favorite moments within the film and shines as she pulls them off, while Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young is a master at playing the disapproving, snobby Asian mother. Her scorn is a force to be reckoned with. There’s an overwhelming sense of love put into every performance, comparable to Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again earlier this year.
I believe Crazy Rich Asians is destined to become a slumber-party rom-com classic and will be remembered as the start of many more Hollywood Asian-led outings down the line. While there is a lot to be critiqued about the way it romanticizes Singapore and the aristocratic lifestyle, these issues are not exclusive to this film. There is a greater conversation to be had about the beautiful normalization of Asian people in Western movies, and Constance Wu is paving the way towards it. I’m excited for what this means going forward, but I loved what I saw here as a starting point for a new wave of Hollywood Asian entertainment.