Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Movie Review

By: Jenna Zine (A Toast) –

Rachel Chu and Nick Young are wildly in love, but will their relationship be able to withstand a whirlwind trip to meet Nick’s judgmental family in Singapore? Challenges await as they face down a cadre of surprising adversaries intent on tearing them apart.

A Toast

Rachel (Constance Wu) and Nick (Henry Golding) are a golden couple – gorgeous, successful, and, most importantly, perfect for each other. We meet the duo in New York at Rachel’s job (she’s an economics professor at NYU), but it’s not long before they’re jetting off to Singapore for a wedding. Nick is set to be the best man in his dearest friend’s ceremony, so what better time to bring Rachel along to meet the folks? Only it turns out Nick isn’t just any ordinary guy – and he’s definitely not from any ordinary family. Instead he’s an heir to one of the wealthiest real estate fortunes in the land; a little tidbit he managed to hide from Rachel… right up until they board their flight in serious first-class style!

The real fun starts when they land and the eye-popping scenery begins. Oh, those glorious, glorious homes, breathtaking landscape, and haute couture-clad actors! It’s truly a sight to behold, and it brings back much-missed glamour to the big screen. Constance Wu and Henry Golding are brilliantly cast as the leads – you immediately want to root for them; in fact, it’s hard to tear your eyes away. (Several shirtless scenes with Golding don’t hurt either!)

Rachel meets the ultimate matriarch, Nick’s grandmother, Shang Su Yi.

The supporting cast is also a delight. It’s wonderful to see the legendary Michelle Yeoh (Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young) again, as always, and I am simply obsessed with Awkwafina (Rachel’s best gal pal, the blustery Goh Peik Lin), Nico Santos (Oliver T’sien, Nick’s second cousin, who also delights as Mateo on Superstore; if you’re not watching Superstore, please fix your life), and the adorable Selena Tan (Alix Young, one of Nick’s aunts who’s devoted to Eleanor). They add the fizz to this bubbly flick.

However, this is far more than “just” a rom-com, as there’s depth to the plot that stretches beyond the typical meet-cute formula (though there is the requisite run-to-the-airport scene). The story closely follows author Kevin Kwan’s book by the same name and is a family satire. So hang on tight; there’s a surge of compelling drama roiling below the romance, especially in the time-honored struggle between a mother and her son’s potential wife. (There’s a wealth of mother-in-law material in literature and film for a reason!) Thusly, the stakes are high for Rachel. Can she properly navigate the terrain of wealth, class, and privilege – plus the divide of her American upbringing – well enough to satisfy Nick’s mother? Or will she be kicked out of his life and replaced with a more “suitable” mate?

Rachel getting whisked away by Araminta Lee, Colin’s (Nick’s best friend) bride to be.

It’s fitting that the stakes are high for Rachel Chu, because they’re equally as elevated for the actors, director, and creator in real life as well. Crazy Rich Asians has the distinct honor of being the first all-Asian lead project to premier in theaters since the 1993 adaptation of Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club (which, until now, was the only Hollywood studio movie to feature an entirely Asian-American ensemble), and the pressure for the collaborators to deliver is intense. To say there’s a lot riding on this is an understatement – as of this review, there were approximately 20 projects waiting to be greenlit, based on the performance of CRA. (We’ve seen this before – Get Out and Black Panther had similar pressures heaped upon them.)

The irony that the industry that has mainly ignored and/or marginalized Asians in film now waits with bated breath to capitalize on this momentum is surely lost on no one. In fact, Netflix even tried to prematurely muscle in, offering director John Chu and author Kevin Kwan an absurd amount of money to secure the rights to stream the film, in addition to ensuring the entire trilogy would be made. (Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians novel was followed by China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.) But Kwan and Chu held firm – they wanted a major motion picture release. As Chu says, “To be on the biggest stage, with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for.” And thank god they did – their gamble has already paid off, with the first box office weekend tracking at $25 million thus far.

The setting for Bernard Tai’s over-the-top bachelor party for Nick!

Beyond the numbers, there is also this simple fact – this sumptuous story deserves to be seen in theaters. (No matter how fantastic your television or phone is, trust me – it can’t do this setting justice.) I must admit that I’ve been rooting for this film, plus the success of the novels, for several years, thanks to Elaine Lui of Lainey Gossip (her blog is an absolute must-read). Elaine has been tracking, dissecting, encouraging, promoting, and studying this project’s journey, from the moment CRA hit the The New York Times Best Seller list, to the securing of the film rights, to the thrilling premiere. It was her dedication that lead me to the book. I definitely feel invested in the source material, as well as how much it means to so many that this movie has been made. Honestly, I was teared up before the opening credits even rolled. In this ugly current climate, it was an honor to vote with my dollar and say yes to supporting broader representation in entertainment.

Oliver, Rachel, and Neena (Peik Lin’s mother) hamming it up with a closet fashion show.

I also had the good fortune of catching Kevin Kwan at recent book signing. It was a thrill to see him in person and hear his thoughts on everything that has happened with his vision. Oh, and the tidbits we learned during the Q&A were delightful, including:

  1. Eddie, Nick’s status-obsessed blowhard cousin, is based on a real person!
  2. He really does know someone that gave their prized fish a facelift.
  3. CRA was at the bottom of a slush pile, headed for the rejection bin, when a secondary agent was lured by the title and ultimately passed it on to her boss. The rest, as they say, is (a lucky and well-deserved) history.
  4. He sold the rights to his book for $1, in exchange for having an active hand in helping choose every detail of the film, including casting and location.

Um, I might have been just a little excited to meet Kevin Kwan!

But one thing he said stands above the rest. When asked why he penned the novel in the first place, he revealed his frustration with the dearth of lively, modern stories that represented current Asia. Kwan says, “I just wanted to write something sexy that was devoid of stereotypes.” Mission accomplished!

Verdict

Not only is Crazy Rich Asians frothy fun, it’s also a tale everyone can relate to – how do you stand your ground when challenged by in-laws, while still hanging onto the person you love? It’s worth spending time in this elegant world to find out.

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Drinking Game

Take a Drink: every time Henry Golding is shirtless. Hello, new screen crush!

Take a drink: every time you drool over a couture gown.

Take a Drink: every time Awkwafina steals a scene.

Take a Drink: ditto for Nico Santos and Selena Tan!

Take a Drink: for the kick-ass soundtrack (most of it Asian-sung), including the emotional use of Coldplay’s “Yellow.”

Take a Drink: every time you think about how wildly unfair it is people like Adam Sandler get a million chances to make turkeys while this talented crew has been handed one shot to create ongoing careers.

Do a Shot: one of the few drawbacks was the brief mention of Donald Trump; it definitely took me out of the moment. (Liberace would’ve been a better reference to Peik Lin’s parent’s ostentatious gold-plated home.) Can we please stop rewarding him with pop culture references? (Starting right after this, since I’ve just done the same thing in complaining about it.)

Do a Shot: now it’s your turn to vote with your dollar. Please put some hard-earned bucks behind this movie!

 

Last Call 

There is one small scene with Astrid a short time into the end credits (that’s hopefully the setup for a sequel!), but nothing at the very end.

* A special shout-out to my husband, who accompanied me to the local premiere because he’d been hearing me talk about the CRA world for years and knew how much it meant to help sell out that showing.

About Jenna Zine

Jenna Zine is a writer, unashamed Bachelor franchise recapper & live-tweeter (@JennaZine1), drummer, and occasional standup comic. She's probably somewhere complaining about her bangs. Find more at www.jennazine.com

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