Crazy Rich Asians film review: Constance Wu shines in sleek romcom that is more an important film than a good one
Director John Chu’s hugely anticipated film based on Kevin Kwan’s book is finally here and proves to be a solid, fun romantic comedy, but it often feels like it is trying too hard as it grapples with the unfair burden of needing to be good
In a perfect world, Crazy Rich Asians wouldn’t be so heavily hyped because it would be nothing noteworthy – it is a solid, fun romantic comedy about very rich, very good-looking people whose dramas and obstacles are mostly self-inflicted: the protagonist in this case has to win over the snooty and judgemental mother of her otherwise perfect boyfriend.
But the world isn’t perfect. Despite Asians making up 15 per cent of the population in Los Angeles County according to the last official count (though anyone who has visited in recent years will tell you it should be much higher), Hollywood sees Asians as, at best, supporting props to white people’s stories; at worst, they are non-existent.
How else can we explain that Crazy Rich Asians is the first major studio picture in 25 years to star an all-Asian cast? There have been no shortage of stories with Asian characters over that time, it’s just that Hollywood hires the likes of Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton to play them.
Because of that, Crazy Rich Asians has the unfair burden of needing to be good, to resonate with Asian Americans, and – most importantly – be a box office success, all so Hollywood executives can maybe take note and change their ways.
This pressure may explain why the movie often feels like it’s trying too hard, from the expository dialogue explaining the term “banana” to the inexplicable switch to Mandarin in a conversation between two people clearly more comfortable speaking English. Director Jon Chu and his writers likely felt the need to cram in as much “Asianness” as possible, while also dumbing everything down to ensure everyone from Texas to Hong Kong understood the references.
At least the protagonist, Constance Wu as economics professor Rachel, is a gem. Playing an Asian American woman opposite the one-percenter family of her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding), Wu is charming and fiery – the latter particularly necessary because Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), is just about the worst type of elitist “tai tai” (wealthy married woman who does not work) that you can find.
But there isn’t much at stake aside from “can the working-class girl impress a group of snobs?” The only obstacle between Rachel and a happily-ever-after ending is Nick’s inability to tell his family to shut up. Otherwise the male lead is perfect – read bland – to a fault.
It is also interesting to note that the novel written by Singaporean Kevin Kwan on which this film is based had a somewhat ambiguous ending, but the film wraps everything up in a tidy bow. This makes the whole story more generic, but then director Chu did have to play it safe and hit every note when so much was at stake. This is, ultimately, more an important film than it is a good one.
Crazy Rich Asians opens on August 23
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