CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Director: Jon M. Chu
Screenwriters: Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the eponymous novel by Kevin Kwan.
Runtime: 120 mins.
Australian release date: 30 August 2018
Previewed at: Verona Cinema, Sydney, on 30 August 2018.
There has been much hype surrounding the romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, Hollywood’s first foray into casting exclusively Asian actors in a major movie since 1993’s Joy Luck Club. Judging by the sold-out sneak preview sessions near Sydney’s Chinatown and its box office success in the States, it looks like we’ll be seeing many more Asian faces on our screens in the future. As Black Panther did for African-American cast films earlier this year, it appears Crazy Rich Asians will do for movies filled with predominately Asian actors. And not before time. Who knew that 2018 would be the year of diversity in mainstream Hollywood cinema?
Jon M. Chu’s film is based on the successful novel by Kevin Kwan, who is intimately connected to the world he wrote about, being the son of a rich, establishment Chinese family. The story is set mainly in the wonderfully photogenic city of Singapore, after a brief opening segment in New York, and it follows the trials and tribulations of a young couple in love. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a young American-born Chinese economics professor at NYU who has been dating a gorgeous Singaporean man, Nick Young (Henry Golding), for over a year. They are hopelessly in love so Nick asks Rachel to accompany him to his best friend Colin’s wedding in Singapore, where she can also meet Nick’s family. (Incidentally, Melbourne actor Chris Pang plays Colin. He is one of three Aussies in the cast, alongside comedian Ronnie Chieng, of ABC-TV’s Ronnie Chieng: International Student, and Remy Hii as brothers Eddie and Alistair Cheng). When they board the plane, Rachel discovers for the first time that Nick’s family are loaded as they’re escorted to first class and their own suite. Upon arrival in Singapore, Rachel takes a bit of time out and catches up with an old friend from university, Peik Lin (Awkwafina), whose family live in a gauche rendition of a Versace mansion. They embrace Rachel, as they consider she helped their daughter when she was studying in America, and it’s while lunching with them that Rachel learns just how rich and powerful Nick’s family is. Later, when she and Peik Lin arrive at the Young estate for a party, Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is particularly frosty and arch towards her. The only member of Nick’s family who appears to be congenial is grandmother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu). Or is she merely being polite? After all, Nick is the scion of the dynasty and the most sought-after bachelor in ‘Singers’, so Rachel is intensely scrutinised not just by the family but by every young, rich temptress in the city. She finds herself in the middle of a scene that’s all about money and culture. Being American-born and coming from a lowly background, will she be found wanting?
There are numerous scenes where the massive wealth on display and the pampered, luxurious life-style that goes with it are totally overwhelming. They scream crassness and complete hedonism and will have some viewers squirming in their seats. And they’re not complete fantasy either - there are many cities in Asia where wealth is the new ‘now’ and Chu’s film has successfully captured the attitude and atmosphere that presides in these rich, spoiled enclaves. If you’re prepared to sit back and go along for the ride there is enough colour and movement and funny moments to keep you entertained throughout. The actors are all highly attractive and photogenic and the script bounces along. The visual extravaganza captured by the Croatian DoP Vanja Cernjul’s crisp, vibrant cinematography is glorious, right up to the final shot on top of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel - simply breathtaking!
That said, the question must be asked: if it wasn’t for the fact that we are seeing handsome Asian actors up on screen, would Crazy Rich Asians be making the splash that it is? At the end of the day, it’s a fairly stock-standard rom-com in which boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy wins girl back and, apart from the casting, there’s nothing very special about that scenario.