Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel is adapted into a technicolor romantic comedy
You’ve likely read about Crazy Rich Asians being the first Hollywood studio film since The Joy Luck Club to feature a predominantly Asian cast in a modern setting, directed by an Asian-American filmmaker. There’s a lot of undue pressure on this film to perform well, while some of us merely appreciate the opportunity for representation the movie allows. Never mind the pressure from fans of Kevin Kwan’s books, hoping this adaptation remains true to his creation.
As a reader of Kwan’s trilogy (Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend, and Rich People Problems), I’ve been excited for the release of this year’s film since I read of Constance Wu’s casting. Wu, critically adored for her performance on ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, stars as Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American economics professor at NYU. Her boyfriend Nick (newcomer Henry Golding) convinces her to travel home with him to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, neglecting to prepare her for the displays of wealth and privilege which will soon overwhelm her.
Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina, Ocean’s 8) has to break the news to her about Nick’s noteworthy family. Wu and Awkwafina’s rapport easily convinces the viewer of a longtime friendship. Awkwafina and Nico Santos (Superstore) as Nick’s cousin Oliver provide many of the film’s laugh-out-loud moments.
Crazy Rich Asians balances romantic comedy with family drama, as Rachel faces off with Nick’s mom Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). Kwan’s original book spins more yarns involving the supporting characters than a two-hour running time would allow, so in the film we only get a few glimpses into the faltering marriage between Nick’s wealthy cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and her husband Michael (Pierre Png). These scenes provide a sort of contrast to Nick and Rachel’s current relationship. As she is one of my favorite characters in the books, I hope the possible next movies delve deeper into Astrid’s history; a moment in the end credits hints this might indeed happen.
Themes of class, ethnicity, and generational differences interplay onscreen in Crazy Rich Asians as the viewer is dazzled by the vibrant fashions, over-the-top decoration, old-wealth surroundings, and the glitzy locations. Not to mention the additional treat of the bare male chests which director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2, Step Up 2: the Streets) makes sure to include.
In doing so, the filmmaker celebrates the male leads in Crazy Rich Asians as worthy of desire (consider the history of Asian male stereotypes in American pop culture, with them rarely shown as handsome leading men until recent years). Such a choice speaks to the further importance of representation the romantic comedy offers.
Crazy Rich Asians is something like a screwball comedy, except both Rachel and Nick remain their down-to-earth selves as they confront traditional expectations & outrageous affluence. Given the talented cast and a hilarious script with deft cultural touches, Chu’s film is destined to be a classic.
Crazy Rich Asians opens in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, August 15, 2018.