While the Asian population in North America is grossly underrepresented in Hollywood, there are venues to access Korean, Chinese, Philippine and Japanese films: A fair number are available via Netflix and big titles often find their way into the multiplex or art-houses. In fact, if it wasn’t for general audiences’ ludicrous distaste for subtitles, every culture with a film industry would be within reach.
So, it’s not like Crazy Rich Asians needs to reinvent the whole film market. It may, however, change habits, improve representation, and help breach the divide between the average moviegoer and Asian cinema’s vast treasures.
Discarding external considerations, Crazy Rich Asians is a sudser on steroids, a full season of a soap opera concentrated in two hours. Well written too. Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) takes full advantage of the setup and –even though the basic plot is light as a feather– manages to imbue the characters with enough pathos to make them interesting.
The film revolves around Rachel (Constance Wu, Fresh of the Boat), an economics professor at NYU in a committed relationship with Nick (Henry Golding). Nick invites Rachel to attend a wedding in Singapore, an opportunity to introduce her to his family.
Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is the scion of one of the richest and most powerful families in the country. The matriarch, Eleanor (an imperious Michelle Yeoh), would like her son to return home and take over the family business, and Rachel seems to be standing in her way. Nastiness ensue.
Crazy Rich Asians’ mission statement comes to the fore in the opening minutes: A harried Eleanor is turned away from a snotty hotel in London. She makes a call and, moments later, she is the owner of the establishment. No snub will be tolerated.
The film is basically cotton candy. Everything is delish: The looks, the food, the real estate, the put downs. Michelle Yeoh towers over the rest of the cast, but everybody is up to task, particularly the comic reliefs (Awkwafina, The Daily Show’s Ronnie Chang, Ken Jeong). Constance Wu gets the hardest job of all as the lead: Balancing competing tones and make it look seamless. She struggles at times, but her innate likeability keeps the audience on her side.
There is a major B-plot involving Nick’s uber-fashionable cousin and her commoner husband, but I would be hard-pressed to say it matters to anybody else but readers of the original book.
While the dissection of family values in Chinese culture goes beyond the stereotypes, Crazy Rich Asians is not a film willing to sacrifice a good time for depth. Go for the luxury, stay for the killer one-liners. Three and a half planets.
Crazy Rich Asians is now playing, everywhere.
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