TL;DR – During the film, I along with the whole cinema, laughed, cried, gasp ‘oh no you didn’t and I can’t remember a film that had that same reaction
Score – 5 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is a mid-credit scene
There are some films that simply be being made are making a statement of intent. These are films like last year’s Black Panther (see review) and Wonder Women (see review), films that “conventional” Hollywood wisdom states that they shouldn’t be made because they won’t make any money. There is a long history of information coming from focus groups that people are not interested in films helmed by women and people of colour, information which is inevitable proven wrong time after time when the box office numbers are released. To put this in perspective, the last live-action film from Hollywood to feature a predominately Asian cast was The Joy Luck Club twenty-five years ago in 1993. This means a whole generation of people have grown up and not seen their stories or people like themselves up on the big screen, and well folks this is why representation matter. So while Crazy Rich Asians is important for just existing, it is even more power from the fact that it is also a fantastic film in its own right and one of my films of the year so far.
So to set the scene, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor living in New York. Her mother Kerry (Tan Kheng Hua) arrived from China speaking no English and worked every day to build a life for her daughter in America. While teaching game theory at New York University, Rachel met and fell in love with Nick Young (Henry Golding) who grew up in Singapore but now lives in New York going to places like the Y that smells a bit funny. Rachel and Nick had been dating for a while and Nick finally wants to take her as a guest to his best friend Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding and introduce her to his family back in Singapore, like his cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), and grandmother (Shang Su Yi). The problem is that the Young’s are one of if not the richest families in Singapore and Rachel has no idea, Nick has not told her and just at that moment they are spotted by Radio One Asia (Constance Lau) and the rumour mill goes into overdrive before they have left the diner.
The first thing that is clear with this film, is why it is so important that we have films coming from a diverse range of writers and perspectives, because this is a story that you could not have done any justice to if you took it out of its context, which many people tried to do during pre-production. We see people coming from all different perspectives of what it means to live in this world, first-generation immigrants and how they relate to their own cultural history, and how they are treated by others who see themselves as following to proper route. We see people who are so rich they can rent out a cargo ship for a bachelors party in international waters but then can also be duplicitous and hurtful to those around them. All of this within a context of family and obligation that feels both familiar and yet very different. It is such a specific context because it is telling peoples stories, not just the same story over and over again. Now I am not an expert in Singapore or the lives of the rich and famous in there, so I can’t tell you what is ‘authentic’ and what is ‘fantastic reality’, so I’m not going into that side of the debate where there are people much more learned than me who have a better ability to critique that side of things. Okay well apart from one point, from my one time at Changi Airport I can tell you people are walking around in this film like it is not the tropics at all.
One of the reasons Crazy Rich Asians works as well as it does is because the cast is willing to throw everything into their roles. Rachel is in many ways our surrogate as the outsider coming into this new world not understanding the rules and courtesies that go along with it. Constance Wu plays her with such strength and power and has to do a lot of the heavy lifting emotional work and makes it work at every turn. Henry Golding plays Nick in this fine line where he is naïve about how his family will react, but not stupid, which is the usual default for characters like this, and that is a difficult balance to get right. My first introduction to Awkwafina was in Ocean’s 8 (see review) earlier this year, where she played this really interesting character. Here she shows that she is an amazing actor, with some of the best comedic timing I have seen in a while, but she is not playing a just a comedic foil to Rachel as Goh Peik Lin, but a full and rounded character. Gemma Chan is here playing Astrid Leong-Teo, Nick’s cousin who he grew up with. At first look, it feels like she is just there as a sub-plot to break the films main narrative up until that is we see the difficult place she finds herself in denying who herself is so as to not outshine others. That is such a difficult dynamic to pull off and full props to Gemma for making it work. Now of course nowhere is that seen more in the casting of Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor the not quite matriarch of the Young family and mother of Nick. As we mention in our Star Trek Discovery overview (see here) Michelle Yeoh is one of the best actors working at the moment and there is such range in her acting that we see here. Indeed, there is the moment when she sees Nick for the first time in years we see that range of that emotion as she goes from happy, to seeing Rachel, to being professional in front of the staff, all in a brief instant.
From a production side of things, the film also excels with its use of editing, location work, and a fantastic soundtrack. Right from the start, the film has a really particular visual style in the way it presents itself. It is not afraid to cut in little side stories when we are meeting that characters for the first time, so you can get to know the world and people in it as quick as possible. You see this in when we are being introduced to the gossip world and how one photo spread through gossip networks from New York to Singapore and back again. As well as this, the locations in and around Singapore and Malaysia give the film more texture and life than what you can often get in sets alone. Finally, there is the simply ridiculously good soundtrack from Brian Tyler that is supported by some truly amazing vocal tracks. Look, I know music is different for people but in many respects, it feels like this was a soundtrack written for me. It blends big band overtones, with a modern pop sound, and then takes something familiar and twists it into something new. Sometimes this is done by taking a song and reinterpreting it into Mandarin, and other times it is rebuilding it from the ground up. Like many parts of this film, the soundtrack is a riot and a true highlight of the movie.
In the end, do we recommend Crazy Rich Asians? Yes, yes we do emphatically. For me, it has been such a long time that I have been in a theatre that has been so on board with every single twist and turn of the story, every character beat, every moment the absence was there for it. If you really wanted to get nit-picky sure there are things that didn’t work, looking at you brother taking photos of people sleeping, but more than that it had a real emotional impact on me, and I really hope everyone gives this film a watch.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Crazy Rich Asians
Directed by – Jon M. Chu
Screenplay by – Peter Chiarelli & Adele Lim
Based on – Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Music by – Brian Tyler
Cinematography by – Vanja Cernjul
Edited by – Myron Kerstein
Starring – Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Carmen Soo, Constance Lau, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Victoria Loke, Janice Koh, Amy Cheng, Koh Chieng Mun, Tan Kheng Hua, Selena Tan & Kris Aquino
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: PG; Germany: 6; New Zealand: PG; United Kingdom: 12A; United States: PG-13