Crazy Rich Asians Reviews
This film appears to be another paint by the numbers entry into the tired romantic comedy genre. However, soon we are treated to a movie which plays with the familiar tropes of this once popular form and also creates its own story in its right. There are moments predictable and similar to what we have seen before with the family not accepting their child's partner. Some of the humor is expected driven by moments where we can tell when the situation is going south.
The writing rescues the movie with continuing down retread paths and instead gives us an interesting different take with tradition playing a role in how Wu's character is perceived by Golding's family. Social class is also explored with a enormous gap in economic class between the two. This allows for some pointed discussion on who we choose to love against the struggle of our family upbringing. The way Golding shrugs off being so wealthy and wanting to be treated as a regular guy is believable and affable.
Golding is incredibly charming as a man trying to forge his own path away from his family. His interactions with his mother are incredible showing his personal journey to continuing to be his own man while his family looks to him to maintain their longstanding legacy as developers. Yeoh shows great restraint as the matriarch who possesses a subtle coldness sending a chill down anyone's spine. She is well written as the sort of villain but understandably thinks she knows best for her son as his mother.
Wu is fun and breezy as the love interest of Golding but also shows the heart of the film as someone who has fought hard to get to the level of success she enjoys. She is highly relatable as a person without much money to support her who put in the work to gain the knowledge to become a professor. All of the characters appear to be real individuals with identifiable setbacks so we are able to relate to the reasons for the decisions they make.
A major selling point of the film is the fact the characters are well-developed so the film still feels fresh. The pushback of the mother feels relatable although she may take it too far at times. Nothing seems too clichÃ (C) or overdone which is often a problem with this genre allowing it to destroy itself in popularity over the years. This movie's success could usher this genre back in a big way and shows people still will flock as long as the story is good. A lot of the humor is derived from natural situations and so there are a lot of genuine laughs instead of just one-liners with expected punchlines.
This is a movie I can appreciate because it plays with the clichÃ (C)s of this genre but also makes us feel for the characters. A character driven story wears its heart on its sleeve like a badge of honor. We reach an expected conclusion but I had no problem with that because the journey is so satisfying and humorous. We can relate to these characters because their issues are relatable and the way they change is realistic. The genre is not reimagined but it does not have to be if the characters are well written and the story told so well. Also, there needs to be more of Awkwafina as the awkward friend bringing sarcasm and stealing every scene she appears in.
I'd be lying if I said I went into this with an open mind, honestly it was probably anything but. Though I had heard positive word of mouth, the marketing and even the title just seemed odd and out of place to me. As I normally do, I tried to avoid the trailers as much as I could, (I failed as it's hard to stay totally in the dark on a large release like this).
If you've followed my reviews in the past, you'll know I'm not huge on rom-com's, however I also don't shy away from them if they are well reviewed. Such was the case with this, sometimes a movie is such a force that it can't be ignored.
Coming from Director Jon M. Chu (Step Up 2, G.I. Joe 2, & Jem and the Holograms) I hadn't set my hopes very high but as I sat down in the theater I tried to have an open mind. The cast is impressive to say the least, starring Constance Wu and Henry Golding (who are both names that few would recognize), the supporting cast brings a lot more name power with it. Such as Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), Gemma Chan (Humans), Ken Jeong (The Hangover), and even Awkwafina (Ocean's Eight) should be known to more (with Ken Jeong probably topping the list). While these names aren't as well known as some American actors, they are big names in their own right.
The film itself offered a rollercoaster of emotions; it was funny, smart, and tugged at the heartstring at times. One of the unexpected highlights were the visuals in the film, with an amazing color palate the over all look was vibrant and really drew you in shot after shot. Some incredible location shots helped with that as well (including iconic shots from all over Malaysia and Singapore).
It is based off a novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan who also wrote two other books that are part of this trilogy (China Rich Girlfriend & Rich People Problems). With the success of this film (having made over 185 million on a 30 million dollar budget), a sequel has already been fast tracked and put into preproduction. I honestly left the theater wanting more and more. Sadly China Rich Girlfriend won't be out until 2021 at the earliest (Warner Brothers is smartly trying to reunite cast and crew for the follow-up, if it's not broke don't fix it).
Somehow the film feels fresh and invigorated with new ideas and yet is a story that is familiar but also across the world from us. At the roots this is a film that doesn't stray too far from the traditional rom-com setup. Poor (middle class) girl meets rich prince (heir to a real-estate empire) and struggles to be accepted by his family. Although the story has been done to death, it's the way that they approach it that makes it something special.
One of the things I found most interesting is that Rachel (Constance Wu) the lead was empowered, she wasn't the standard damsel in distress that is so common in films like this. I won't go into detail but it really brings a power to her character, and needless to say she doesn't take anything lying down.
It'll be interesting to see if Warner Brothers can capture the magic again or if this was just a fluke (as is so often the case when a promising movie gets milked for sequels). Hopefully they go about it in a smart way that will allow for the natural progression of the films and characters.
With an all-Asian cast, this may start a new trend in Hollywood. Anytime something new comes along, the rest of the studios aren't far behind (Shared Universes, Found footage films, Disaster movies, etc.), and sometimes they're successful and other times Hollywood learns the hard way that not everyone can do everything. I could easily see other studios trying to create rom-com's with diverse casts in order to capitalize on the success seen here.
In an opening scene that sets the tone for the rest of the movie, a racist hotel manager denies Eleanor Young a room, but she does not become a Felicity-type Desperate Housewife who hysterically grabs the hotel guest list and has a meltdown that her husband has to remedy. Rather, she is a quiet, restrained Crouching Tiger who elegantly shows him who shows him who's the boss with a satisfyingly Asian style smackdown.
Lacking historical characters surviving wartime oppression, CRA does not waste time over-explaining its complex social politics. Like a round of Chinese chess, a series of maneuvers takes place immediately before the wedding that audiences may be oblivious to. For example, Astrid, abandoned by Michael Teo, enlists her grandmother as her escort to save face while Rachel, denied her customary place in Nick's mother's row, boldly sits next to Princess Intan, one of few attendees who outranks Eleanor.
The power dynamics in Confucian hierarchy allows Shang Su Yi, Nick's grandmother, not to be a shuttered recluse, but a feared matriarch who can humiliate her Cambridge educated daughter-in-law with a snide comment about dumplings.
Even Oliver T'sien, the wisecracking rainbow sheep, knows his place as Eleanor's lieutenant to dispatch the overacting gold digger Kitty Pong.
Astrid Teo inherits Eleanor Young's mantle as the new generation's epitome of understated power, by both comforting Rachel during the bachelorette party with the approachability of a certain pediatric surgeon and by later giving a Pelosi worthy emasculation to a cheating husband.
Amanda Ling's deliciously Francesca Shaw style Mean Girl bullying is not just a "Godfather" rip-off. The Chinese character for "fish" is a homonym for the Chinese character for "surplus" (both "yu"), symbolizing "wishing for more"(longevity, children, money, etc.). It is not a coincidence that Rachel is given a bloody fish, a reference to her boyfriend being a "good catch," and it is intentional that Rachel's immediate reaction is to not call security or make a scene, but to nullify their attack by not responding.
Soon after witnessing his mother's hostility to Rachel, Nick defends his mother's sacrifice for the family, indirectly reminding his girlfriend that even her progressive ideal man is still beholden to a culture where there are no "Momma's boys" -- only dutiful sons.
Bernard Tai does not bother with the standard wealthy Asian bachelor party formula of dog fighting, gambling, and drinking on a family-owned yacht. Instead, he goes all out on a cargo ship in international waters replete with former Miss Universe contestants.
However, the most entertaining character is Goh Peik Lin (translated as "bottled water" in one of China's 70 dialects), a best friend who is just barely unattractive enough to not be viable competition for Nick Young, but hilarious enough to be a SNL reality check for Rachel Chu. Various C-listers, from Goh Wye Mun, with his fashion disaster house modelled after Trump's bathroom, to Eddie Cheng, with his Daily Show of superficial preening, round out the extras.
As for Rachel Chu, it is refreshing to see a heroine who is not a country bumpkin Cinderella who is staring wide eyed in wonderment at the riches in front her. Instead, Rachel Chu is a believable economics professor who outwits opponents in everything from poker to Mah Jongg and who can speak intelligently to royalty about microlending (for once, someone had the novel idea to actually do some research about the knowledge base of a top tier academic before portraying one). Fresh Off The Plane, Rachel earns the respect of a wide audience, ranging from the my-self-esteem-is-linked-to-the-name-brands-I-own Asians to the walk-in-the-rain-instead-of pay-for-a-taxi, use-your-relative-as-a-free-I.T.-handyman, Netflix-password-sharing Asians.
In a culture where being raised by a single mom is still considered scandalous, CRA captures the tension between tea drinking old wealth and smart phone using new money, satay savoring traditionalists and scone dipping urbanites, and Chinese and Chinese-Americans.
Finally, what is especially notable is what is missing from CRA's film version of lifestyles of the rich and secretive. There is no incessant barrage of designer labelled tiresome fashion porn. There is no pair of two "down to earth" romantic leads who anywhere else would be considered shallow and pretentious. There is no random 9th inning trek to reach a father figure with criminal undertones. There is no friendly super model inexplicably transforming into a jealous Bridezilla. In short, there is no 50 Shades of Stupid.
CRA is the antithesis of a token that checks off Hollywood's cultural education diversity quota. It is a legitimate enjoyable experience comparable to"My Big Fat Greek Wedding," "Monsoon Wedding" or "The Wedding Banquet," which finishes with an inside joke (for those not culturally aware) that involves singing about the color yellow. Blink, and you'll miss Charlie Wu's extraneous M.C.U. inspired Easter egg cameo sequel setup