Director: Jon M Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong
IMDB Rating: 7.5/10
Seveno Rating: 7/10
(Note: While I acknowledge ‘Asian’ is a very broad umbrella term, be warned that I do use it quite regularly throughout this review, however I don’t mean to use it to generalise, I merely use it in the same way that the film does in its title)
The last time a Hollywood film was released with an all-Asian cast was all the way back in 1993 (The Joy Luck Club), so it is a massive understatement to say a film like Crazy Rich Asians was long overdue.
Crazy Rich Asians, with economics lecturer Rachel Chu (Wu) as the protagonist, explores the wild and wondrous world of the super-rich in Singapore. When her boyfriend of a year, Nick Young (Golding) invites her to attend his friend’s wedding in Singapore, Rachel gets the shock of a lifetime when she very quickly discovers her boyfriend’s family is beyond rich. When she is rejected by Eleanor Young (Yeoh), Rachel, along with the help of her college roommate Peik (Awkwafina), attempts to win the Young family over to save her relationship with Nick.
Visually, this film is grand and flashy – everything you’d want from a rom-com that follows the life of the mega rich, with gorgeous shots of sandy beaches and the imposing Singapore skyline. The sets are glamorous and fascinating, the desire to just step straight into the screen and join the ostentatious parties worming into the hearts of audience members. The outfits are envy-inducing (not to mention the jewellery!), and it is no understatement to say that the wedding scene will change your meaning of the words ‘over the top’ – it is everything you could want and more from a visual and atmospheric perspective, while remaining emotional and strangely relatable.
As a rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians holds its own. The highest grossing rom-com since The Proposal, and the plot does not disappoint. The leads are young and attractive, and Nick is the real prince charming that women dream will arrive to sweep them off their feet. Unwittingly, Rachel steps straight into a fairytale, assuming the role of Cinderella and living the fantasy of so many women around the world. Nick says all the romantic things a leading man should say, and (spoiler alert) the couple overcomes all the obstacles in their way to achieve their happy ending. The final plane scene is so extravagant that it may cause tears – consider yourself warned.
The film explores what its like to identify as Asian American, and that it means you don’t entirely feel like you fit in anywhere. To Americans, Rachel is Asian: she is bilingual, has an immigrant mother, and belongs to a hybrid Chinese-American culture. However, when she travels further east (notably she hadn’t visited Asia at all until the wedding), and meets her family’s very traditional Chinese family, she learns that she doesn’t quite fit into that culture either. The questions surrounding identity that this storyline raises is really interesting, specifically as it applies to so many second (or third, fourth, fifth etc) generation immigrants, who are not accepted by either of the cultures and countries they supposedly “belong” to. In this instance, Rachel may look and speak Chinese, however, as Peik astutely points out, to her boyfriend’s conventional family, she is a ‘banana’ (yellow on the outside but white within) who instead lives by the more stereotypically American ideals of following your dreams and pursuing your own happiness above all else.
Politically, this film had a lot to do. Expectations where high, and the hype that was built around this film having an all Asian cast meant that it had a lot to live up to. Regardless of the quality of the film, or perhaps what some people may feel personally about the plot, it is undoubtedly important. It is shocking how underrepresented Asians are in media, and to have a film like this, not only get made, but also do so well is such a powerful sign that we need more films like this. But we need them to be diverse, not just for the sake of improving diversity, but also just because they are.
It’s difficult, with such a broad term as ‘Asians’ in the film’s title, to live up to everything. Obviously, it would have been more accurate were the film called Crazy Rich South East Asians, or even Crazy Rich Chinese. There is of course an immensely large Asian demographic that isn’t represented in this film, but this doesn’t take away from the significance of the film, or the influence of it. Hopefully, this is just the first step towards seeing more blockbuster, big-budget, and high profile films with more diverse casts. Essentially, what the book, and consequently the film, has done is take a plot which could very easily centre around a purely white cast, but has added the depth of questioning cultural identity, and changed the nationality of the characters, and it has become almost revolutionary. Perhaps the film could’ve taken itself more seriously and tackled more serious issues, but as a fun rom-com it takes itself just seriously enough, acknowledging the issue of race without letting it overshadow the entire plot and atmosphere of the film.
I was really excited about this film. Not only is it important on a political level, for taking a big and overdue step towards better representation in the media, but also I love a good classic rom-com. And I was very happy walking out of the cinema, as the film was everything I wanted it to be, and I can honestly say that it very quickly became a new firm favourite. And clearly, many people agree, as not only was the British release date brought forward by several weeks, but fans have already started to talk about the (potential) future sequel.