It’s been 25 years since a major studio put out a film with an all-Asian cast – 1993’s Joy Luck Club being the last. How long ago was 1993: Bill Clinton was President, gas was $1.16, and Lebron James was 9 yrs old. Director Jon Chu and his two leads, Constance Wu and Henry Golding, take on the challenge of filling the demand for for Asian lead stories with Crazy Rich Asians – a tale that intersects love, family, and wealth.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel, Crazy Rich Asians tells the journey of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who agrees to go with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to his friend’s wedding in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick is from a very wealthy family. Rachel’s simple meet-the-parents trip quickly turns into her realizing she’ll have to win over his overbearing mother (played by Michelle Yeoh).
Crazy Rich Asians is a standard romantic comedy. It has all the classic, yet unbelievable, tropes necessary for a rom-com: Nick’s ability to camouflage his wealth as well as hide his girlfriend form his family (they’ve been dating for a year.). Rachel is a gorgeous professor but everyone pretends she’s not good enough for Nick. Rachel’s college friend (played by Awkwafina) lives in Singapore and has no idea her friend is dating Nick Young. There’s a BFF(s) that gives love advice. There’s a b-plot couple, and this story definitely falls under the “Cinderella Fantasy” rules. It’s shocking there were no relationship conversations happening during a pickup basketball game, yoga class, or in a gym.
As predictable as the plot is, Crazy Rich Asians is a charming love story that slowly wins you over. Constance Wu and Henry Golding have great chemistry together. From the first scene in the café to the finale frame, their onscreen electricity is what drives the film. The supporting is riddle with comedic actors who know exactly when to drop in a joke or funny facial expression. What’s a rom-com without the wacky people that surround the couple.
Director Jon Chu does a great job capturing the Young family – they live an extraordinary life with an embarrassment of riches and are still connected to their culture and heritage. It was important to capture that because it’s essential to who Nick is and the wedge that’s driving his mother and Rachel apart. Chu also makes Singapore look like the perfect place to vacation. He paints a beautiful picture of Southeast Asia, its people, and their culture.
In true rom-com fashion, the best sequence in the film involves a wedding – of course it does. This wedding is breathtaking. Besides how jaw-dropping the wedding looks, the best part is a sequence that switches between two people in love that are sharing a moment. The scene goes back-and-forth between their moment and the bride walking down the isle.
Seeing the Asian and Asian-American experience on film is refreshing and their stories aren’t told enough. The film is structured like most rom-coms but Rachel’s experience dealing with Nick’s family and friends is when the film becomes a little more than a love story. At the center of Mrs. Young’s (Yeoh) beef with Rachel are issues of classism and acceptance, among other things. This part of the Asian-American experience is explored through Rachel’s conversations with Mrs. Young. The film succeeds at getting to the bottom of Mrs. Young’s issues with Rachel and showing audiences a different perspective on what Asians and Asian-Americans experience when dating.
Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of fun and a success for many reasons, but it left me with three lasting impressions. 1) Stories of love and family are universal. 2) Constance Wu is a star. 3) Henry Golding has the makings of a male lead, can’t wait to see him in A Simple Favor. Let’s hope we don’t have to wait another 25 years before we see this again.