We all remember how it was when Black Panther was released earlier this year. Having an all-Black cast and putting minorities into the spotlight in a major genre. That momentum was transferred into the romantic comedy genre as Asians opened some expensive doors inside their crazy world. And it was a glossy, globe-trotting good time.
Crazy Rich Asians tells the story of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American professor who travels to meet her boyfriend’s (Henry Golding) family for a wedding. Once she arrives, Rachel discovers that her boyfriend’s family is among the richest in Singapore.
The tale is as old as time in the romantic-comedy genre: girl meets a Prince Charming, whose family is, not only lined with money and fame, but also passes judgment on newcomers to a family function. Finding out about Nick’s abundant wealth is a pleasant but disorienting surprise; the disapproval of his friends and family was less fun. Come on, we’ve all had those awkward moments with family gatherings and you are bringing someone new.
Before you write off this movie because of its worn-out plot, this movie makes the CW-style story feel fresh because of its context: a major movie studio took a chance on releasing a movie deeply rooted with Asian characters, setting, and culture. In a movie or genre not well known for that distinction, that fact still remains. Not only does it matter on screen, but also in the bigger sense of what movies Hollywood chooses to present to a worldwide audience.
Wu’s Rachel Chu is the type of girl that you want to bring home to meet your family. She’s beautiful, witty, and smart. Who wouldn’t love her? That person quickly arrives when Nick’s mother, the forbidding Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Along with a group of scheming debutantes just waiting for the opportunity to become a part of the family, Rachel is an annoyance – a clueless, ambitious American who doesn’t have the pedigree to join the Young family.
In this sort of fight, you have to have a best friend; in this film, Rachel’s best friend is an old college buddy, Goh Peik Lin (played with hilarious timing by Awkwafina). She’s the type of friend that you want in this kind of shiny, expensive firefight. While Lin’s family money puts them in the Young’s rarified air, they are still considered outsiders. But that’s what makes them entertaining and a good difference from the catty ways of the females in the Young’s orbit.
The movie has seams of decadent set pieces: from helicopters to private islands for six figure bachelor and bachelorette parties and the inevitable makeover scene to a beautiful-themed wedding. The rest of the cast is packed as well. Gemma Chan’s Astrid, Nick’s beloved cousin, is a welcome black sheep of the family and one of my favorites of the film outside of the leads. Even though her side plot is not deep, her character is more than enough to make up for it.
Director John M. Chu is a master of creating a beautiful film, not making the audience doubt Rachel and Nick’s relationship for a minute. I found that very refreshing; while the doubt adds drama, it is not necessary here. If this storyline is something old and borrowed because of the genre, a peek into the crazy-rich curtain of Asian experience doesn’t just feel new but way overdue. Hopefully we’ll see move movies like this in the future.
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