Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Review | Crazy Rich Asians | 2018

In the last 25 years before the release of Jon M. Chu's Crazy Rich Asians, there had been only two major Hollywood productions starring an entirely Asian cast - The Joy Luck Club (1993) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). That the film has been such a major player at the box office is a testament to audiences' hunger for diverse stories, but it also doesn't hurt that the film is one of the best romantic comedies Hollywood has produced in as many years.

Beyond the cast, there is very little groundbreaking about Crazy Rich Asians, but its so well made and beautifully directed that it's easy to forgive its comfortably formulaic plot. Constance Wu stars as Rachel Chu, an economics professor at NYU from a working class Chinese immigrant family, who meets and falls in love with Nick Young (Henry Golding), the wealthy heir to his Chinese expatriate family's real estate fortune based out of Singapore. The problem is, Nick never told Rachel that he's rich, so when he flies her to Singapore to meet his family, Henry Golding), she ends up with extreme case of culture shock.

Imperious Young family matriarch, Eleanor (the regal Michelle Yeoh) is immediately suspicious of Rachel's American background, believing it to be too focused on pursuing one's own dreams rather than putting family first. While Eleanor works to prove to Nick's family that she is truly the one for him, she also faces opposition from family acquaintances, jealous of her access to Nick, who want to bully her out of the picture and claim Nick for themselves.

Through it all, of course, Nick remains steadfast in his love for Rachel, and the ending of the film is never really in doubt. But it's all handled with such grace by Chu that's almost impossible not to get swept up in the story. Crazy Rich Asians is a gorgeously designed feast for the senses, filled with decadent costumes, lavish sets, and some well-timed comic relief courtesy of Ocean's 8 breakout star, Awkwafina, as Rachel's wise-cracking best friend, Peik Lin Goh. It's a film with big laughs and an even bigger heart, an old-fashioned love story in the tradition the romances of Old Hollywood. Chu's direction recalls the gentle humor and romantic charm of the great Ernst Lubitsch (whose 1940 film, The Shop Around the Corner, was remade as You've Got Mail in 1998), especially in the final reveal at the film's deliriously romantic climax.

Crazy Rich Asians certainly checks a lot of familiar boxes along the way, but it tells its story with a genuine warmth and conviction that elevates it above typical genre fare. It's also the second romantic comedy this year (the other being the heartwarming gay teen romance, Love, Simon) to demonstrate that diverse audiences need diverse films, and that seemingly tired genre tropes can be given new life if the characters are worth caring about. Even though we all know where it's heading, the journey is one worth taking thanks to an engaging cast and a sensitive screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim that chucks the cliched Hollywood exoticism that so often surrounds Asian characters and delivers something unlike anything mainstream American cinema has ever produced.


GRADE | ★★★ (out of four)


CRAZY RICH ASIANS | Directed by Jon M. Chu | Stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Gemma Chan, Sonoya Mizuno | Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language | Now playing in theaters nationwide.

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