Going to the movies often offer a chance to escape. A chance to leave your problems at the door and live vicariously through fictional characters put in extraordinary situations. The film Crazy Rich Asians is pure escapist entertainment at its finest.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s New York Times’ best-selling novel, Rachel Chu (Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu) is an NYU economics professor whose life is about as rosy as it gets with a successful career and dating a handsome and Oxford educated guy named Nick Young (newcomer actor Henry Golding). When Nick’s best friend in Singapore is set to walk down the aisle, he brings Rachel as his date and uses the upcoming wedding as an opportunity to finally introduce his girlfriend to his mother and the rest of his family. Unbeknownst to Rachel, there’s one tiny detail her boyfriend fails to mention after a year of dating each other—him and his family are ridiculously rich back in Singapore.
Crazy Rich Asians is a formulaic romantic comedy that has everything you expect in these type of movies. When you have seen one rom-com, you’ve seen them all. While you shouldn’t expect the film to reinvent the wheel so to speak, there’s something undeniably lovable and charming about it. For starters, it features an all Asian cast whose talent and likability literally light up the screen alongside the razzle and dazzle seen throughout the movie in its unabashed showcase of monumental wealth that the Young family and their friends possess. The notable standout of the movie is the YouTube star turned actress Awkwafina, who steals just about every scene she’s in as Rachel’s best friend and guide through Singapore’s lifestyle of the rich and the famous Goh Peik Lin. As Henry’s mother Eleanor Young, actress Michelle Yeoh manages to give her character layers of complexity and finesse without turning Eleanor into an over-the-top caricature of a woman who disapproves of Rachel and will go through great lengths to run the Asian American professor out of Singapore.
Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young (left), Henry Golding as Nick Young (center), and Constance Wu as Rachel Chu (right) [Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]Aside from the stellar cast, the movie itself is a love letter to Asian culture and family traditions, from the sights, sounds, and flavors of Singapore to the importance of preserving tradition so that it may be passed on to the next generation. Crazy Rich Asians is also more than just a simple love story between Rachel and Nick. There are explorations of family ties, sacrifice, and reconciling one’s Asian identity along with what defines you as an individual. It isn’t often you see these type of themes realized so fully, much less in a light and frothy romantic comedy like Crazy Rich Asians. There’s a lot going on in this movie. Maybe not quite on a deeper level, but it does something that’s surprisingly lacking in the film industry and that’s movies that are about the Asian experience and their own internal conflicts as well as triumphs.
Leading up to its release, Crazy Rich Asians is a film that’s hard to ignore the significance it has in Hollywood and the big risk it’s taking to market the movie to a wider audience. It has been touted as the first major studio film to have an entirely Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, though, that’s not entirely true when there was also Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha. The release of this movie is truly an about time moment where ethnic minorities and people of color are taking center stage in the same way Marvel’s Black Panther did. A lot is riding on this movie to succeed, which will hopefully lead to more diverse stories, writers, and actors to be the norm in Hollywood rather than the exception. And if Crazy Rich Asians does succeed, this could mean that Kevin Kwan’s other two novels, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems, that continues Rachel and Henry’s love story, may get the movie sequels I would definitely want to watch.
Going into this movie, I didn’t really expect a whole lot from it. Of course I was excited to see something different in the movie theater and rooted for non-white actors to have their chance to be the main stars in their own film, instead of playing the sidekicks or perpetuating the tired stereotypes constantly being projected by the Hollywood machine. It’s more like I got bored with romantic comedies, and many of the ones that have come out in the last decade or so haven’t been very good.
This would be a shocking admission to make because anyone who knows me would know I’m a huge romantic at heart and absolutely adore the romantic comedy or romance movie genre in general. But once the genre continued to get progressively bad, I didn’t really want to watch any new rom-com movie and preferred to stick to the classics, like Sleepless in Seattle or Clueless. When the opportunity to see Crazy Rich Asians came, I took it and I was relieved that this effervescent film helped me remember why I fell for the genre as a young and wide eyed hopeless romantic all those years ago. The movie gave me a smart and relatable romantic heroine to cheer for and a dreamy leading man you want her to have her happy ending with. It made me laugh out loud one minute and then nearly made me cry the next. Finally, the movie made me really forget where I was for those two hours of its run time and allowed me to fully immerse myself in the fantasy of this glittering world of huge mansions and grand parties that Jay Gatsby himself would envy. For the longest time I had forgotten what it was like to be swept away by a feel good love story and Crazy Rich Asians succeeded in reigniting those feelings within me once more.
As an Asian/Pacific Islander myself and a born and raised Filipina from New York City, I could go on and on about how much it means to me to see a movie like this one on the big screen. But I think enough has been said already about what it means to a lot of Asians who have been one of the ethnic minorities so used to not seeing themselves represented in Hollywood. My post probably already speaks for itself about the enthusiasm I feel for the movie. More than that, if you ignore the fact that the film has all Asian actors and actresses in it, Crazy Rich Asians is just a good and fun movie to watch.
When the movie was over and I was on my way out of the theater, I overheard some non-Asian movie goers discussing it among their friends. The response was overwhelmingly positive for the movie they have just seen. The reaction ranged from “I can relate to that scene where…” or simply saying they really loved the story. If Hollywood and major movie studios gave films like Crazy Rich Asians or Black Panther more of a chance to be seen, we’ll start caring less about the color of someone’s skin or their ethnic background. We would judge a film based on the merit of its story and characters. Judging from the reaction I witnessed at my local theater that night, this is already a good sign that we’re ready for more inclusive and diverse storytelling to keep on coming.
Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians? What did you think of the movie?