Kevin Kwan sold the rights to his book for $1 dollar to ensure that the casting isn’t whitewashed. The result is an all Asian ensemble film that escaped the clutches of Scarlett Johansson, Emma Stone, or a white blonde newly nominated Hollywood It Girl that will fictionally have a drop of Asian blood.
Crazy Rich Asians benefit from the ostentatious wealth of its world – palatial homes, luxury cars, couture clothes, expensive jewelry, and unchecked materialism. It also benefits from featuring rich attractive Asians at the center of the story that is so rare in mainstream Hollywood that the movie exudes a groundbreaking kind of novelty. It’s like watching unicorns prance around to the tune of Chinese cover versions of songs about money.
The cast is a perfect fit, with Michelle Yeoh stealing the spotlight from everyone. Henry Golding is definitely leading man material and Constance Wu deserves to be in more movies. However, Eleanor Young is one you’re most interested about. Awkwafina and Nico Santos added levity as a pair of fairy godmothers.
Unfortunately, as much as the cast do their best, the movie spends most of the time being Crazy Rich and forgetting about the Asians.
When you wipe out all the polish, what you have is a simplistic soap opera of a fairy tale romance. The cast does a good job but they’re ultimately held back by one-note characters that could’ve added more substance to an inevitably condensed story.
The script is preoccupied with boasting its location and production design than storytelling. Flying to a secluded island in a helicopter and getting an invitation to a soiree in a property that’s so exclusive it’s not in the GPS is a dream come true. However, they barely scratch the surface of domestic and identity issues in plain sight. An unnecessary subplot doesn’t help.
As a result, it’s hard to buy the premise that the film tries to sell. A girl with a Ph.D. in economics doesn’t recognize the golden boy of the wealthiest real estate developer in Singapore. And the same wealthy family fails to see the value of such a degree.
There’s a scene here towards the end, where Rachel plays a game of mahjong with Eleanor. Yeoh’s calibrated reaction spoke volumes about a woman tied to tradition, but she certainly didn’t get to where she is by surrendering to it. It’s a scene where game recognizes game. But this great moment is too little too late.
In fairness, the movie is still amusing and the cast make it work. Appealing to the mainstream will provide better returns in the long run as it helps pave the way for more Asian films that aren’t about martial arts.
Crazy Rich Asians is a milestone (the all Asian cast Joy Luck Club was 25 years ago). It broke the stereotype of nerdy male Asians, MSG, and dragon-lady mothers. It has already shattered this nonsensical Hollywood notion that POC movies are box office risks.
Crazy Rich Asians
Crazy Rich Asians is another telenovela that just happens to have a high production value, but it's amusing and dazzling enough to be watchable.