It seems like after years in a romantic desert, we are finally having our thirst quenched by a geyser of rom-coms which are hitting cinemas and streaming in 2018. Netflix have been doing a particularly good job in this arena, but we’ve also had Love, Simon breaking boundaries in its own way and now Crazy Rich Asians is here to again challenge perceptions of who we get to see as being romantic heart-throbs on screen. The commercial and critical success of these films is so important (yes, the pressure on them is unfair) if we want to see more rom-coms being made and released, as well as films with diverse casts telling the stories of those who rarely get to see themselves represented on screen. This film provides universal themes told through the specificity of a particular culture and it balances this extremely well.
The “rich” part of the title means that this is one of the most sumptuous looking movies of the year – the glamour of the locations, sets and costumes cannot be overstated. The cast is absolutely huge, but it is packed to the rafters by impossibly beautiful and talented people. Newcomer Henry Golding is already heading to the top of many people’s Bond wish-lists after they’ve seen this movie. He plays Nick Young, who is dating economics professor Rachel Chu (‘Fresh Off The Boat’s Constance Wu) in New York City. Rachel is a second-generation immigrant who has never been to Asia before, whereas Nick is from Singapore (via boarding schools in England, hence his crisp accent). He persuades Rachel to join him on a trip to Singapore for spring break, so he can be the best man at his best friend’s wedding. Rachel agrees, but is also aware that this means she’ll be meeting Nick’s family for the first time. As Rachel soon discovers that they are flying to their destination in first class, she begins to question Nick and his family; her suspicions starting to raise that they might, in fact, be super-rich.
Nick has many cousins, including Astrid (the impossibly beautiful Gemma Chan) who is going through some marital problems with her husband Michael (Pierre Png). However, the main family member who is Rachel’s concern is Nick’s mother Eleanor (the sublime Michelle Yeoh). Eleanor has many plans for Nick and they do not include an Asian-American economics professor. There follow many shenanigans including a chaotic stag party with Colin (Chris Pang) and his crew including Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang) and an equally terrifying hen party, where Rachel meets a girl who may know more than is ideal of Nick’s past. Rachel finds two allies in Singapore – her friend Peik Lin (‘Ocean’s 8’s Awkwafina) and Nick’s cousin Oliver (Nico Santos), who help her with a scene fundamental to all good rom-coms; the makeover.
There are two pivotal scenes in Crazy Rich Asians which centre around activities that are important to Asian culture, which have multi-layered metaphorical meanings that will be significant to those from that culture. They are dramatic scenes that can be enjoyed on one level by everyone but which will have deeper meaning to people from Asian communities who can finally feel a connection with something so specific on screen. The two activities are dumpling-making, which takes place at the home of the matriarch of the family, Ah Ma (Lisa Lu). The second scene occurs near the finale and takes place over a game of mahjong, which is not unlike chess in terms of representing the shifting power and status of the players. The acting of Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh in this scene is phenomenal, as the power shifts between them and each gain the upper-hand at different times.
There are many heart-breaking scenes in this film and it may be a cliché, but it’s true in this case, it will make you both laugh and cry. Gemma Chan’s Astrid is one source of the heartache – it is fantastic to see Chan breakout internationally after her success on British television. Constance Wu also gives such a vulnerable, tender performance, as Rachel is met by hostility which is subtle at first, but then becomes much more blatant from Eleanor. Rachel looks like Nick’s family, but is viewed as an American and therefore an outsider who doesn’t belong there. She is seen as being a distraction from what they want for Nick, which is to return to Singapore and take over the family business.
There is a climactic wedding scene which takes the levels of rich to whole new crazy heights. This is an escapist fantasy which relies heavily on wealth porn, but it’s a sumptuous visual feast that it’s nice to succumb to for two hours and dream of a life of jet-setting luxury. The performances, particularly of the women (especially Wu, Yeoh and Chan) elevate Crazy Rich Asians above the usual rom-com fare. The men are hot and the women are heart-breaking and it’s an extremely enjoyable time at the cinema. I’m so excited that romantic movies are staging a comeback because they are very much my jam. Long may it continue.
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong, Awkwafina