CRAZY RICH ASIANS

“Crazy Rich Asians,” based on a best-selling trilogy by Kevin Kwan, makes Hollywood history as one of the first major Asian-American-centered films in recent years.  The story focuses on Rachel, a young Chinese-American woman traveling to Singapore to attend her boyfriend Nick’s best friend’s wedding.  While meeting Nick’s family, she is surprised to learn he is actually the scion of the Young family, one of Singapore’s wealthiest, as well as being a highly sought-after bachelor.  This puts Rachel at risk of facing jealousy from everyone else she meets, including Nick’s mother Eleanor, who is absolutely determined to break Nick and Rachel up.

 

Directed by Jon M. Chu, the film primarily centers on the conflicts between the Young family’s traditional Singaporean values and Rachel’s fish-out-of-water upbringing as a Chinese-American.  However, the tone feels somewhat uneven, as if it can’t seem to decide whether it wants to be a lighthearted romp, nasty satire, or intimate character study.  For the most part, “Crazy Rich Asians” falls back on standard Hollywood romantic comedy cliches, right down to the last-minute declaration of love on an airplane.  Some of the supporting characters, including Rachel’s friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), and the flamboyant fashion designer Oliver (Nico Santos), also come across as a bit too broad in their characterizations.  There are a few intimate moments between Nick and Rachel scattered throughout, along with the dramatic subplot between Astrid and Michael, but Chu seems more inclined to showcase just how “crazy rich” this family is through montages and music video-lite depictions of excessively East Asian materialism.  The wild nature of Vanja Cernjul’s bright and colorful cinematography and the rapid-fire editing by Myron Kerstein don’t really cool down until the last-third, when the more dramatic elements come into play.        

 

Thankfully, what saves this movie is the cast itself.  Constance Wu and Henry Golding have good chemistry as Rachel and Nick, both of whom serve as the primary focus.  Michelle Yeoh gives off an intimidating streak in Eleanor, the domineering matriarch, while Gemma Chan shines as the well-off but dependably self-aware Astrid.  Ken Jeong is surprisingly (and appreciatively) restrained in his brief appearance as Wye Goh Mun, Peik Lin’s father and Lisa Lu, plays Shang Su Yi, Nick’s grandmother, with a potent touch of sensitivity.  The Singaporean high-life culture is in full swing here, as we see numerous shots of its delectable delicacies and establishing shots of its high-rise buildings, cruise ships, and pools overlooking the skyline.  There are also some visual jokes that work well, including one where Peik Lin is picking out her best party dress.  The soundtrack features a richly effective mix of popular Western tunes sung in Mandarin and local Asian pop hits, which makes the montage-crazy action feel at least more appropriately cohesive.         

Although the authenticity of its Asian cast and culture is a major breakthrough, “Crazy Rich Asians” puts far too much emphasis on the “crazy rich” part to make it anything more than a charmingly upbeat experiment.      

 

**1/2 “Ya-stars”