Subtle in its revolution, powerful in its execution.
Crazy Rich Asians isn’t a full on middle finger to the frequent dross of Western rom-coms. Nor is it a film stuck so within the constraints of its own cultural context that you’ll find yourself scrambling to empathise with the lovey-dovey leads. Jon Chu’s vibrant spectacular is a gorgeous reframing of a tale we’ve all seen before, with enough self-aware jabs without being overly satirical, subversive without being an off-putting novelty. The way he blends in (and by happenstance, educates us on) Asian culture so seamlessly through the movie is a testament to his talents as a storyteller; the end result here is one of the best films this year.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is about to accompany her long-time boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding) to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, where she will also meet his large, gossipy and demanding family; most importantly of all, his mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Rachel doesn’t come from much wealth – she’s grown up alone with her mother after her father died before she was born. Until now, she hadn’t thought much about Nick’s financial situation – but when they board the plane and they’re ferried into first class, she learns that his family are, as he puts it, “comfortable”. As she retorts, that’s what crazy rich people always say.
Chu opens the fare with a fun, biting flashback – a young Eleanor walks into a London hotel, having made a reservation, but is knocked back by the obnoxious staff in aid of obvious racism. It isn’t until a certain member of royalty walks through the lobby and warmly welcomes them, that the staff realise how badly they’ve done-goofed – Eleanor’s family now own the hotel. Chu orchestrates this encounter with a playful wit that prevents what could have been a crushing, preachy moment, making it a great way to establish Yeoh’s fighting spirit which becomes central later on.
From there we leap into the beautiful credits sequence to the infectious, big-band tunes of Brian Tyler’s fabulous score, which does what all great soundtracks do; flows through and complements the emotional notes of the story, bombastic when needed but enabling that extra tear when necessary. The way in which he fills a brilliantly immature sequence, in which Nick’s family find out about Rachel and send texts to each other across the globe, with such peppy energy is toe-tappingly ace.
The easiest way to describe the story is like a reverse Family Stone; Rachel, an everyday Chinese-American (her foreign nature is frowned upon as she’ll only care about her own interests, apparently), has to meet Nick’s huge, posh family. Chu, alongside writers Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, adroitly establish the family dynamic of the Young’s, which on a large basis, are cheeky but pretty nasty. There is some light within the family though. Aside from the good-natured Nick (wonderfully and charmingly played by Golding), there’s Astrid (Gemma Chan), who despite her riches is a dedicated family woman with deep-rooted relationship issues. Chan is so naturally warm, and an utterly essential member in an otherwise sickening family.
You’ll not be entirely surprised by the first half of the movie, with friendships and rivalries coming alive with exactly who you expect. In another film, this could feel silly and unjustified, but the likeable, often very funny ensemble energy to the feature assists in believing in all the relationships as they further and crumble. One character who is often a breath of fresh is Awkwafina as Rachel’s long-time friend, described by her father (a reliably hilarious Ken Jeong) as “Asian Ellen”, who routinely brings wisdom to Rachel’s troubles while in awe of her boyfriend’s wealth.
Wu is a gorgeous lead, embodying the wide-eyed wonder anyone would have when faced with such extraordinary and continuous revelations. As the centre of the piece, she holds her own, holding an affable chemistry with everyone she meets. But the real star of the show is Michelle Yeoh, in a delicate, nuanced turn which could earn itself an Oscar-nom next year. Yeoh is tactful in Eleanor’s mannerisms, through the tiniest slant in a polite grin, or her mesmerising yet piercing eyes. The world gravitates around her unbeatable, dominating presence, particularly so in a chilling alteration between her and Rachel, enough to send a cold sweat down anyone’s spine. But Yeoh’s character isn’t without redemption – there’s a sequence towards the end that is a masterclass of intimidation, progression and admission, all while playing a game a large portion of viewers (including myself) won’t be familiar with.
As the tomfoolery, bitchiness and comebacks escalate, the film comes full circle in its show-stopping, breathtaking highlight; the wedding. Beaming brightly with Asian culture (as does the rest of the film), stunningly crafted through faithful set design, and shot with a poetic rhythm and visual beauty. Kina Grannis’ cover of ‘Can’t Help Falling In Love’ accompanies, adding a deftly emotional edge to an already tear-jerking moment. Let the goosebumps and tears rush over you as you relish in what could be one of the most awe-inspiring moments in a rom-com you’ll ever see. This is a film that excels in a crowded genre, furthers knowledge of Asian culture in an endearing, naturalistic way, makes interesting comments about high-society relationships, is really well-written (with the exception of one creepy bedroom gag), and even when using a playbook filled with typical tropes, feels like a refreshing triumph.
Not often are the words ‘rom-com’ and ‘spectacle’ paired together. Crazy Rich Asians is an absolute must-see.
Crazy Rich Asians is released September 14 in UK cinemas.