Crazy Rich Asians Review
Have you ever wanted to see a Bollywood rom-com but with Chinese people instead of Indians in it? With better production value than our paltry budgets and tacky VFX allow? With largely similar themes and marginally less melodrama? Then welcome to Crazy Rich Asians, a film more obsessed with its excesses than Fifty Shades and King Uncle combined. For all of its flashiness and overflow of dollar bills, though, Jon M. Chu's Crazy Rich Asians follows the Bollywood formula pretty religiously (not intentionally, I'm sure).
It starts off interestingly enough, its opening scene a harsh reflection of the racism Asians endure on a daily basis in Western countries even today. But rather than following through on this in any way, the film then veers away completely, no mention of this scene or its undercurrent at all subsequently.
Instead, the film revolves around a Chinese American professor of economics at NYU, who visits her Chinese boyfriend's family in Singapore and discovers that they are crazy rich, and above that, thorough Asians. How she navigates the tough waters that are over-protective families and manages to make love trump all is what forms the plot for the remainder of the film.
Admittedly, it is a heart-warming occasion to see a major Hollywood film with its cast consisting exclusively of Asians, directed by an Asian, having majority of its crew belonging to the ethnicity and set almost entirely in Singapore. There is an eye for detail, whether it's the food or the costumes or the customs, that has the authenticity that a white director could not have brought to the table. There is genuine pride in the culture rather than any fetishising of it in the name of Hollywood diversity, and hopefully the box office success of this film will bring about more such projects to international audiences.
Having said that, as an Asian myself, the film's authenticity doesn't hold as much novelty to me as it does to a Western audience. At the end of the day, the thing that matters, and where Crazy Rich Asians disappoints, is the fact that the film doesn't have much plot beyond the basic structure of the rom-com. The film becomes too boring too soon, relying on the charisma of its actors to take it to the finish line. If only there were a few well-picturized song and dance sequences to pump up the entertainment every now and then. Hmmmm....
The only fresh idea in the entire film comes in the subplot about the leading man's sister and her relationship with her husband, who is also a commoner in comparison to his wife. Their relationship truly reflects the complexity of marrying above you, in terms of money and in terms of achievement. If only they had been given more screen space in place of the bachelor and bachelorette parties on picturesque islands that must've cost a fortune to shoot on. Hence, the weighty screen time.
On their part, the actors truly do seem to be having fun, their full beliefs behind this landmark project. It makes my heart sing with joy to see Constance Wu leading the cast of a major film and she does justice to my bubbling emotions. She is charming, funny, vulnerable and strong in just the right measures, making it hard to concentrate on the lavish production design. Henry Golding is confident, if unspectacular, as her romantic interest. Michelle Yeoh is the epitome of grace and calm, and I'm sure her wardrobe will provoke jealousy in the hearts of many around the world.
Crazy Rich Asians has its compelling moments when it finds the right balance between romance, drama and flashiness. Unfortunately, there are few things money can't buy, two of them being a tight screenplay and some inspired direction. For everything else, there's MasterCard.
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