Film Contributor Alisha Shah has fallen in love with Crazy Rich Asians, and its cultural significance in the 21st century
They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, and I would definitely extend that phrase to movie titles. Because a movie absurdly titled Crazy Rich Asians, will, in fact, surprise you with its depth and charm.
Based on the book of the same name, the story centres around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). She agrees to go with him to Singapore for his friends’ wedding, and in turn, agreeing to also meet his family for the first time. American-born Rachel is in for a surprise finding out that Nick is indeed a ‘Crazy Rich Asian’ (get the pun?), heir to an enormous family fortune. The drama follows as the nature of their relationship become points of contention within his strict family.
Top-grossing movies featuring Asian protagonists are rarely seen, let alone a movie having an almost entirely Asian cast and can boast having the highest number of English-speaking Asian roles of Hollywood.
As seen by Black Panther, a movie can resonate with and represent a minority group severely under-represented in film, and still be seen as special to the groups it represents. This can be seen clearly by the fact that the movie largely dances to the stereotypes of the romance genre, the culture which surrounds the story still makes an impact. The fact is that the movie delves into Asian culture in multiple ways. This can be seen in the fact that Rachel is a Chinese-American, and that she, ultimately, is different to Nick’s traditional family, who view her as alien and fundamentally wrong.
Directed by Jon M. Chu, the movie has an upbeat and quirky style. The story constantly moves forwards and doesn’t let the pace falter. However, the tense and dramatic moments really do tear at the heartstrings.
The cinematography was also very appealing in specific moments, particularly the wedding scene, and overall, the movie does look very nice. Most impressive was the costume design, which effectively presented attitudes towards wealth and highlighted the contrast with the more humble Rachel. Visually, the costumes do, in fact dazzle and showcase high-class society in all its layers and colours.
Crazy Rich Asians can best be described as a ‘romantic comedy-drama’. What makes this movie stand out and resonate over years of uneventful romantic comedies, was the well-acted relationship between the two main leads. The supporting cast was also intrinsic in the set up of the movie’s main conflict, with Michelle Yeoh’s role as Elenore, Nick’s mother, being of particular note. She is the traditional antagonist of the story but is played in a more believable and realistic manner. Her character draws more from traditional values, but is more than a walking stereotype. There is a believable sense of depth and progression to the character.
The brunt of the comedy is placed on the supporting cast, despite not all being too memorable. Aside from Awakafina’s role as Goh Peik Lin, the comedic side-cast all fall into a category of ranging from okay to forgettable. Some of these were pushed to a cartoonish degree, most likely in an attempt to make them more memorable in the sprawling cast. This worked at times but served to be more confusing as the storyline delved into the more dramatic aspects. I would more so class this movie as a ‘lighthearted romantic-drama’ with moments of comedy, it is not dreary but not necessarily a comedic classic.
There is also another storyline running adjacent to the main romance, centred mainly around Astrid (Gemma Chan), Nick’s cousin. The storyline fell flat for me personally and was just an odd aspect of the movie. The intent perhaps was to reflect and contort the main storyline, in that Astrid is engaged to a man, who like Rachel, is not cut from the same rich family tree of Asia. In reality, this side storyline does not have the same emotional resonance or really relevance in any form to the main storyline. I can only assume it was a by-product of the book the story was based on, but was just given the time to adequately explore or make the audience invested.
However, with all that said and done – Crazy Rich Asians proves the fact that the romantic-comedy genre can still be done in a fresh and appealing way. Certain story angles played out as expected, but there are a few interesting turns the movie made which were definitely more engaging. The strength of the movie comes across in the performances and the writing most of all. This is a film that made me laugh, cry and feel joy in a way that had been sorely missing in cinema within the last couple of years.
Verdict: A fresh and enjoyable romantic-comedy that is sure to reinvigorate your love for the genre and sure to make a lasting impression