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Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Review: Crazy Rich Asians

A Crazy Rich Cinematic Experience

By Chris Sabga

Release Date: August 15th, 2018 – U.S. • Rating: PG-13 • Genre: Comedy, Romance • Running Time: 121 minutes • Director: Jon M. Chu • Writers: Peter Chiarelli (screenplay), Adele Lim (screenplay), Kevin Kwan (novel) • Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh

Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl. Boy takes girl to Singapore meet his parents and attend a wedding. Boy neglects to tell girl he's from one of the richest and most famous families in all of Asia. (Boy uses girl's Netflix password instead of having his own account, so how could she possibly know?)

That's the tantalizing premise behind "Crazy Rich Asians." 

Much has been made of the fact that this is the first American film since "The Joy Luck Club" in 1993 to feature an all-Asian cast. It's a historic and long overdue development. But let's face it: anything historic doesn't always sound like very much fun. Rest assured, that isn't a problem here. This movie is a pure joy to watch from beginning to end.

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, "Fresh Off the Boat") has no idea what she's in for when her boyfriend, Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding in his first film role), invites her to Singapore. Nick Young is a household name in Singapore. Before he even finishes telling his mother he's bringing Rachel with him, everyone in the family – and everyone in Singapore – knows her name too. That's how much status the Young family has.

As Rachel experiences for the first time the overwhelming opulence and extreme extravagance the Youngs are accustomed to, so too does the audience. Watching "Crazy Rich Asians" is like going on an all-expenses-paid vacation to Singapore that you could otherwise never afford. You'll meet memorable characters, in breathtaking locales, wearing gorgeous outfits, eating mouth-watering food – be sure to grab a bite before the film, or you'll be ravenously hungry long before the credits roll! The Royal Wedding seems humble compared to the Young Wedding.

But if I'm making "Crazy Rich Asians" sound like a glorified travel program or reality show, nothing could be further from the truth. The movie wouldn't work if it was only a surface-level look at the glitz, glamour, and excesses of a wealthy and well-known family. 

One of the main themes in the film is the perceived differences between people who are Chinese from those who are Chinese-American. Children of immigrants from any country or culture can relate. 

There are also differences between the "old money" Youngs and other families in Singapore. While the Goh clan is presented as wacky and played for laughs, they are also unapologetically themselves and instantly warm, inviting, and accepting of Rachel and everyone else they meet. (Awkwafina – whose over-the-top character is described in the movie as an "Asian Ellen" – and "The Hangover's" Mr. Chow, Ken Jeong, play two members of the outrageous Goh family.) 

Meanwhile, the matriarch of the Young family, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, in an Oscar-worthy performance), is cold, distant, and critical of her "chosen one" son's American girlfriend. And she is far from the only one at the wedding who is unhappy about Rachel's presence. 

However, not everyone shares those views. Astrid (Gemma Chan) and Oliver ("Superstore's" Nico Santos) are happy for Nick and Rachel. Astrid is a particularly fascinating character, as she'll think nothing of dropping over a million dollars on ridiculous pearl earrings, yet isn't presented as a spoiled snob. 

Also interesting and perhaps unexpected: the Youngs are a Christian family – there's an early scene of a Bible Club meeting, and the wedding takes place inside a church – which is notable, because Chinese characters are usually depicted as followers of more traditionally-Eastern religions. (However, it should be noted that the characters in the Amy Tan book The Joy Luck Club are also Christian – they attend a Chinese-Baptist Church. I'm not sure if this carries over to the film adaptation, which I haven't seen.) 

But none of that would matter if we didn't care about these people – and we do, thanks to stellar performances by all involved. Constance Wu admirably anchors the movie, serving as the audience's proxy into this unimaginable other world of loud luxury. Henry Golding is incredibly impressive in his first film role – no doubt an instant star-making performance. And if there's any justice in the world, Michelle Yeoh's name will be on the Oscar ballot. 

Beneath a flashy veneer, "Crazy Rich Asians" expertly explores issues of family, culture, finance, and happiness. But it's still a whole lotta fun! This is one of the most thoroughly enjoyable films of the year.

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