CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Just be clear: it’s ‘crazy rich’ as in ‘very rich’. They’re not insane.
DIRECTOR Jon M. Chu CAST Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina
PLOT When Nick (Golding) invites his girlfriend Rachel (Wu) to a wedding in Singapore, she sees it as a chance to meet his family and find out where he came from. On arrival, Rachel learns Nick has been keeping a little secret: they’re the richest people in the country.
YOU CANNOT FOR a second accuse Crazy Rich Asians of failing to deliver on its title. Almost every one of its characters has a fat bank account and is not afraid to show it, as gaudily and fabulously as they possibly can. That title, larky and campy as it is, is something else, too. It’s a statement. The past five years or so have seen studios finally pulling their finger out when it comes to putting money behind movies with casts that are predominantly non-white and there has been a lot of focus on the success of movies with largely black casts — Black Panther, Girls Trip, Straight Outta Compton, etc. Crazy Rich Asians is a statement that diversity means a whole range of ethnicities and experiences, and everyone should be included. It clearly knows it’s important, as the first major studio movie of the century with an Asian cast, but it wears that importance lightly, and festooned in sequins. It is a hoot, subtly very clever, and one of the best romantic-comedies of the decade.
At the centre of an enormous cast are Constance Wu and Henry Golding as Rachel and Nick, a young, attractive couple living in New York, where both work as professors at NYU. Things are getting serious and when Nick is due to go to Singapore, where his best friend is getting married, he asks Rachel to come along. Rachel knows most of Nick’s family is in Singapore. What she does not realise, until they arrive, is that Nick’s family owns most of Singapore. He is the heir to the fortune of a real estate dynasty and something of a national celebrity. As Rachel is introduced to his enormous extended family she learns that many people don’t want to let the country’s most eligible bachelor go to some interloper American. Unfortunately, that group includes Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Yeoh).
Director John M. Chu’s CV is an erratic list, taking in two Step Up movies, two Justin Bieber concert films, the G.I. Joe sequel and Now You See Me 2. What all those movies have in common is a good amount of dazzle, and he brings that here. Whether it’s a wedding of such ludicrous grandiosity that the aisle is turned into a babbling brook before the bride makes her (confusingly damp) entrance, or a family party that resembles a royal gala, he revels in the opulence of
★★★★ OUT 14 SEPTEMBER CERT 12A / 121 MINS
his characters’ rarefied lives. And while the past works of cinematographer Vanja Cernjul don’t show anything comparably glossy, he does the movie proud. You never suspect these Asians are merely moderately well off.
What Chu also shows, better than he ever has before, is control of character. Initially the film is jolly and sweet, with jokes that raise a smile if not an out-loud laugh, but it gets more charming and funnier as the characters bed in and their real insecurities beneath their expensive surface start to show through. Rachel, superbly played by Wu, comes through particularly strongly, a woman who is out of her element but quick to adapt. It manages to make her dismay about dating a secret billionaire genuinely sympathetic.
It’s common in films with so many players for things to become jumbled, for characters to feel included to just add another ‘name’ to the cast, but Chu knits them all together fluently. The supporting cast is full of great turns, particularly Gemma Chan as a millionaire with an insecure husband, and Michelle Yeoh. Leaving them all for dust, though, is Awkwafina, as Rachel’s best friend Goh Peik Lin, who looks like an illustration of the Dolly Parton quote, “It takes a lot of money to look this cheap.” Despite being in her twenties, she has the qualities of someone like Joan Rivers bodyswapped with a trust-funded millennial.
Amid all the laughter, Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel works in some interesting conversations about the changes in Asian culture as it has travelled around the world. The film is fantastical, but it has a lot of realworld points to make and feels like a discussion that’s only just getting started. A sequel is already in the works, and it can’t come soon enough.
Verdict it’s way over the top in its style, which is a good thing, but grounded with realistic, loveable characters. this is a romcom milestone and the best thing to happen to the genre in years. it’s crazy good.
Clockwise from left: Rachel (Constance Wu) meets Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) with Nick (Henry Golding); A head-turning Awkwafina; Crazy rich Asians Colin (Chris Pang), Nick, Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang), Eddie (Ronny Chieng) and Alistair (Remy Hii); Free bar!; Just a light dinner for the best friends.