If you would like to read Anthony Le’s earlier review of Crazy Rich Asians, click here.
Synopsis: The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life. Not only is he the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families, but also one of its most sought-after bachelors. Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother taking aim. (Warner Bros)
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, and Michelle Yeoh
Writers: Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim
Director: Jon M. Chu
Rating: PG (Canada)/PG-13 (USA)
Running Time: 120mins
This is the year of representation. After Black Panther proved that the film with a predominantly African-American cast can succeed, this film, based on the book by Kevin Kwan hopes to do the same with a predominantly Asian cast. Both these films share many parallels with the biggest being the fact that they are not defined by their respective gimmicks. What these film did with their gimmicks was to use them to steer their somewhat familiar stories into a fresh direction. This was definitely the case with this film.
This reviewer can’t speak to its authenticity compared to the book, not having read it. For those who also haven’t read the book, the story is about a woman named Rachel (Wu) and her boyfriend Nick (Golding). Rachel was excited about going to Singapore for the first time with Nick for his best friend’s wedding. However, when she got there, she quickly realized what kind of relationship she really had. Rachel learned that she and Nick were two completely different people. She was simply an economics professor from New York City but he just happened to be part of one of Singapore’s wealthiest families and a sought-after bachelor.
As much as the film was a romantic comedy, it was also a fish out of water story. Not only did Rachel come from a different economic status, she also came from a different cultural status. In order to survive, she would have to overcome both of these. She was very compelling to watch here because of her relatability, growing in confidence over the course of the film and eventually finding her place amongst it all. However, it was definitely not easy for her as she wasn’t prepare to have a target on her back for being Nick’s girlfriend. Nick had quite a large family full of eccentric characters (perhaps one too many) but the only ones who got the most focus were his sister Astrid (Gemma Chan) and his mother Eleanor (Yeoh).
In the case of Eleanor, Rachel’s relationship with her was one of the most thrilling things about the film with Eleanor serving as the largest hurdle she would have to overcome in order to truly be accepted. Though she held a very intimidating presence with a tough backstory of her own, she cared for her son. Also, the story may have focused more on Rachel but Nick still had plenty to prove himself with an extended absence along with his choice of girlfriend earning the ire of his family (though Rachel got more). This put him in a precarious position as he pretty much had to choose between the family he was loyal to and the life they wanted him to live and the woman he loved.
What will surely surprise people is how funny this film is. The script here was full of sharp dialog with some standard romantic comedy humor and some bits that touched Asian culture. A few characters stood out in that respect with the best being Rachel’s old college roommate Goh Peik Lin (played by a scene stealing Awkwafina). Technically speaking, the film excelled from the cinematography, score, set designs, and costumes, immersing us into the culture and the lifestyles of the characters. Even if you like the film or not, it’s a decent tourism commercial for Malaysia and Singapore.
The best part of the film was the chemistry between Wu and Golding as Rachel and their performances as Rachel and Nick. Despite everything else going on, the film lives or dies with these characters. They were both believable as a couple and were very compelling to watch together. Wu, in particular, was excellent here as the relatable everywoman who just wanted to fit into a foreign land and culture while not letting herself get consumed by it. Golding, in his first acting role, was great here as well and looked comfortable. Outside Wu and Golding, Yeoh was excellent as the strong and intimidating Eleanor. She could easily have been a cliche, however, Yeoh managed to humanize Eleanor.
Overall, this was a crazy fun, crazy emotional, and surprisingly funny romantic comedy that was full of spectacle and was led by the excellent chemistry of Constance Wu and Henry Golding and a powerful performance from Michelle Yeoh. Hopefully this film will do the same for Asians as what Black Panther did for African-Americans because we definitely need more of these different perspectives in cinema.