This was a long time coming. It has been the talk of the town since it was announced. I liked it. I have friends who have read the book who loved it. I have not read the book. So I cannot say how accurate it is. But speaking culturally (Though I am not a rich person living in Singapore or an American born Asian, I am, however, a South Asian), I felt the movie missed the mark. Hear me out.
Crazy Rich Asians is a 2018 American romantic comedy–drama film directed by Jon M. Chu, from a screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. The film stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, and Michelle Yeoh. It follows a Chinese-American professor who travels to meet her boyfriend’s family and is surprised to discover they are among the richest in Singapore.
A little bit of spoilers ahead. But its a rom-com. So, nothing that will alter your movie watching experience. Even if you know the story, it’ll still make you feel giddy when Nick proposes. Oops.
It was quite the character study, partly.
The reaction to this movie was very divided. Granted the fans were in much larger number than those critical of it. But this was, at its core, a very basic and cliche romcom. With just a little bit of something more. Covered in fancy clothes and beautiful South Asian imagery, this movie was more a character study for me. Unfortunately it never quite delivers.
They took a seemingly successful Econ professor to an unfamiliar place. Separated her from the only people she knew and stripped her of her dignity and confidence, leaving her high and dry with some of the most condescending people on earth. Now stuff like this is usually interesting to me. Rachel Chu is lovable. But they never really establish that. You begin the story with her already having entered this unknown environment. There aren’t enough moments in the beginning that show her relationship with Nick, or her life in New York City, to actually present a contrast in her circumstances in Singapore. Also, I thought it was a little bizarre in how they chose to paint the rich Asian people as any other rich people (the way well off white people are portrayed in media).
They are assholes and douchebags and basic bitches. On one hand, hey, equality guys. Asian people can be just as bad as white people when it comes to partying and morals. On the other, its removes any gravitas the movie could have had with Rachel’s character arc. It almost feels like the movie forces you to root for her. Everyone else is a bad guy, simple. Any other character development towards Nick’s family and friends is addressed in one liners. The only other person, who was interesting in the movie was Nick’s cousin Astrid, played by Gemma Chan. She was really the only person I was invested in in the whole movie.
The characters were rich, but not in personality
I mean, besides Rachel and Astrid, everyone else was kind of boring. Which is a pity cause they wasted my childhood superhero crush Michelle Yeoh (Silver Hawk – she rides a white motorcycle in a white leather suit yo). This woman is considered a gift to Asian cinema, yet she is reduced to frowning and pursing her lips in the entire movie.
We get one instance of her being a fierce tiger mom in a flashback and thats it. I mean there are a few good scenes peppered in here and there, and her icy interactions with Rachel are phenomenal, but few in number. But I was really disappointed it didn’t go beyond that. Maybe thats where the movie had to make a decision. Turn into a dramatic Mother in Law-Daughter in Law Asian drama, or take the tried and tested American rom com route. It reminds me of how the creators of The Meg did some awesome things with the fish, but always held back when it came to unleashing hell on screens deserving of the Meg’s mythos. I hear more people in the movie talking about how scary Eleanor is than actually seeing on screen.
And there is also Nick’s grandma. Now if this lady is supposed to be even one up from Eleanor, shouldn’t she be introduced in the last 15 min or so? Again, the characters on screen talk about how she is worse than Eleanor and then gloss over her completely till the very end. I get it, she is old. But seniors are treated with the utmost respect and often with the highest authority in most Asian households. They do try to give Eleanor an arc with her mother in law, but again, no time to actually develop it. Don’t even ask about Nick. As boring as rom com leads come. Hes hot, has a British accent and a heart of gold (possibly literally, who knows). Hes the Asian Ken doll here and I guess Golding did what he was asked to.
The friends, are, kinda insignificant. Awkwafina is always fun to watch on screen. Her family along with Ken Jeong was kinda fun but nothing special. The other nice rich people were sort of, just there. I never really cared for any of them. Astrid was such a good character. Sadly her story kind of goes on on its own. Would have actually liked to see her bond with Rachel instead of Awkwafina and have Astrid give Rachel the confidence to face the crazy rich family, telling her that they are only human and nothing she should be scared of. Honestly, the characters were kind of a mess for me.
It boasts about Asian values but is too scared to discuss them.
The whole conflict in the movie seems to be – Rachel is too poor to be a good daughter in law and support Nick as he takes over the giant, giant family business. And that she is too American and will never understand the values of their family. But , they never show how she is not compatible to Nick. Nor how she is later on in the end. The final showdown (as I call it), comes down to Rachel and Eleanor playing Mahjong.
Rachel has been shown to be smart, so she beats Eleanor and says something along the lines of – I wont make him leave his family and business for me. So I turned his proposal down. But, later on, when he gets married and has a family, when you play with your grandchildren, I want you to know it was all because of me, a nobody.
Great line, really. It was a nice scene. Heavy. Constance Wu carried herself well. But, what does that mean? That doesn’t make any sense realistically. After this Nick runs after her and proposes to her on a plane (as all rom coms end at the guy stopping the girl at the airport). Turns out he proposes with his mother’s ring, showing Eleanor’s approval. But how does that work though? It does not resolve the movie’s conflict in any way. It almost feels like Eleanor did it begrudgingly. As if Rachel hurt her ego and this is her bowing down to Rachel’s will, and in a way, her son’s will. Is Nick leaving his family and business then? Cause Rachel herself admits she does not want to live the crazy rich life. So the business just goes to one of the cousins? You are telling me – a lady that built herself from ground up in a condescending household where her mother in law still scolds her, in front of her own kids, is totally fine with this ? Even today, western values are chided and considered airy dreams and non realistic in the east. But the movie never discusses this. Almost like it runs away from the bigger issue and really the only issue in the movie. I cannot say how this movie could have ended better. But it didn’t feel honest to the story that they set out to tell.
You hate it or you love it
I think in part, CRA suffers from a sort of blindness from fans and haters alike, just like Black Panther does. Both movies are monumental in creating main stream media for a marginalized community. Yet both seem to be considered perfection by die hard fans despite neither even coming close to the best in their respective genre. And on the flip-side, the haters go one too far to say – you only like the movie cause its got Black/Asians people in it. So? Is that supposed to be a bad thing? I think their charm does lie in the fact that, you dont need to be white to be part of such a story. Which is kind of nice. I was not expecting anything groundbreaking. Both are just good movies in their respective genres who happen to celebrate a culture not often talked about or lauded in popular media. Though in CRA’s case, its more about replacing White douchebags with Asian douchebags. For CRA, besides the crazy rich part, a lot of Asians in US must have empathised with the main character and the discrimination she faced while visiting Singapore. Or the identity crisis that seemed to be renewed in her despite being a confident independent woman from New York City. And I guess that was the point. Rom com genre or not, I dont think this movie was for me. I grew up in a very different environment than Rachel. I actually empathised more with Eleanor than her. Though I understand Rachel’s feelings, somewhat, I find it hard to justify the end of the movie. Not to mention neither Rachel nor Eleanor really grow throughout the movie. Rachel still doesn’t learn anything about Nick’s family besides making dumplings. Nothing is shown as her having embraced a part of Nick’s families’ culture as a sign of accepting him. Neither is Eleanor actually shown to have accepted any part of Rachel’s ideologies.But could be a mistake on my part. This movie is from Rachel’s point of view. She is the main character, the underdog, the hero. Of course she is always right in the movie and she will win. I give them points for making Rachel morally strong, I just wish they would developed her story better with Eleanor and Astrid than they did with the her and her friends.
The good, the bad, the giggly
The acting is really good. Constance Wu is my dream casting for the live action Mulan remake. I love her work. She is amazing in Fresh off the Boat. And exactly the kind of fierce mum I was hoping Michelle Yeoh would have been in this movie. Speaking of, Michelle Yeoh is perfect in each scene. She does not have extensive dialogue, but I absolutely love the tension she has with Golding and Wu. She loves her son but is still mad at him for a hundred reasons. Just one scene of her and Golding, and her eyes do all the talking. She is nice to Rachel on the outside just to humour Nick. But when she is alone with Rachel, the air is so cold you might as well be facing a Dementor. And still you see her take on a more grounded demeanor around her friends, Nick’s aunties, and loosen up a bit in her mannerisms, albeit crazy rich style.
Fun fact – aunties and uncles is often used to refer to your parents’ friends or people in the same age group as your parents. It doesn’t mean they are actually related to your parents. Thats why Rachel calls Eleanor aunty.
Henry Golding was adequate. I haven’t seen his work much, but he made the best of what he was given. If anything, shoutout to equality for the fact that he was as useless as any hot guy of any other race in a rom com.
Gemma Chan was fantastic. Seriously. She is a theater actress and it shows. Her scenes are slow and intense. Very little dialogue. Her internal conflict is materialized in her expressions and very less is explicitly laid out for the audience. I absolutely loved her in this movie. Awkwafina did what she does, and so did Ken Jeong. I dont think I remember anyone else. Oh yeah, Rachel’s mum is a character too, but she doesn’t do much. There’s a nice scene of Rachel running into her arms like a child, and its heartbreaking. But thats about it. The dialogue is great. Really good one liners from the leading ladies in the movie.
The screenplay is ok, a little rushed in places, but this is a book squeezed into a movie. So I give it a pass. The visuals are amazing. Some really breath taking scenery. Who doesn’t love the tropics? The music is great too, I think? (couldn’t really understand any of it). As far as using the wrong races goes, at least its not a white person playing someone of Chinese descent (Aloha). No, its not the best, getting non Chinese actors, but, the fact that they made a big budget commercially successful movie with an all Asian cast is a wonder enough. Also, I agree with the criticism that the movie felt more like Crazy Rich East Asians. Dont even ask about the Indian population in Singapore in the movie.
This movie isnt perfect. I have a lot of problems with it as you can tell. But I have to admit, it really went back to its rom com roots. Something that has been missing from romantic movies of late. It has cliches yet it executes them well and without being jaded. It made me feel bubbly watching it. This is a perfect cozy night-in on a rainy day kind of a movie. It has very little substance, mostly just butterflies in the stomach. And sometimes thats all you need after a really bad day. But dont go looking for a cultural discourse. For a movie with an Asian cast and location, its spirit couldn’t be farther from its core.