Aug 31, 2018

[Movies] Crazy Rich Asians (2018) Review

Crazy Rich Asians began as a book that felt like it was outside of what I would normally read. I had noted how well-received it was plus the fact that it focused on Singapore, a country that remains a very big part of my life because of my work and my family there. But still I delayed and never got around to reading the book despite seeing so many people around me reading the books in the series.

And now Crazy Rich Asians is a major Hollywood movie that has made history just by having been made. Tobie and I finally watched it after the opening day rush had passed and walked away pretty entertained by the experience.

There were a lot of familiar locations involved in scenes and other cultural touchpoints that stood out. But at the same time the movie didn't feel quite so crazy enough in terms of depicting opulence in a manner that could be understood by people who haven't read the books and haven't been to Singapore.

Synopsis: Crazy Rich Asians is an American romantic comedy-drama movie directed by Jon M. Chu. The screenplay was written by Peter Chiarelli and John Penotti as based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. It is the first Hollywood movie to feature a majority Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club.

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor at New York University (NYU) and has been dating fellow professor Nick Young (Harry Golding) for some time now. He suggests that she join him on a trip back home to Singapore to attend the wedding of his best friend Colin (Chris Pang) and to finally meet his family. As Nick has never discussed his family in detail before, she eventually agrees to go.

But when she discovers that Nick had booked them first class, it is revealed that Nick's family is more wealthy than he had ever let on. What's worse is that the news that Nick is bringing his girlfriend home is already the talk of the town back in Singapore. And as the title states, they're not just rich but in fact they're crazy rich and Rachel is about to enter a world that is completely alien to her.

What I Liked: The cast of this movie is simply amazing. Sure, we all have to recognize the value of Asian representation in America fulfilled by this production. But more than that, the talent they gathered was simply amazing and resulted in a lot of great moments in the movie. Michelle Yeoh made for a great "antagonist" as Nick's mother and she is already a living legend when it comes to movies. Equally brilliant was Lisa Liu, who played Nick's grandmother and matriarch of the family. The two working in tandem made for some pretty emotionally complex scenes and the movie was all the better for it.

It was refreshing to see Constance Wu in a role so different from her work on Fresh Off the Boat. While she's still a strong woman, she's now in the role of the American out of her element instead of the immigrant mother keeping a family together. And she and Harry Golding have a unique on-screen charm that makes their relationship all the more believable. And we can't not talk about how crazy hilarious Awkwafina was as Peik Lin, Rachel's best friend from college. A lot of the best one-liners involved her character to one degree or another and the movie would not have been the same without her.

What Could Have Been Better: The movie inadvertently relies on the audience already knowing Singapore whether through the book or personal experience. And thus it felt like the movie didn't do enough to "sell" just how crazy rich these people are. Without the proper context, it's hard to distinguish how different it is to eat at the Newton Hawker Centre versus the seeming home-cooked catering for the first party in the movie. Some of the early scenes had more direct references to their wealth but more subtle things like what having an estate that size on a cramped island like Singapore may mean never made its way into the movie.

And from a cultural context, it was a little odd how everyone was mainly limited to trying to speak English with a British accent. While this happens, the unique flavor of "Singlish" wasn't as prevalent in the movie apart from the Peik Lyn's family, the Gohs. So you get a lot of quirks like this that felt like a missed opportunity to really sell us on what counts as rich in Singapore. Heck, we didn't even get decent beauty shots of what they actually ate at the hawker center or the bulk of the other meals in the movie - which is sad given how important food culture is to Singapore.

TL;DR: Crazy Rich Asians is still a fun romantic comedy of sorts that does its best to capture the complexity of the book in a single movie. Such adaptations never manage to get everything right but it's still a breath of fresh air versus typical Hollywood fare. And thus the movie gets a good 4 crazy things these Singaporean families do for entertainment out of a possible 5.

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