On August 7, 2018, Warner Bros. made history by having the premier of their new romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians” at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, California. This film, based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel, is a big deal for the Asian-American community as it’s the first film in 25 years to feature an all Asian-American cast. The film grossed $143.9 million, earned rave reviews from critics, and is going to have a sequel; but does the film live up to its hype?
The film begins in 1995 when Eleanor Young (played by Malaysian actresses Michelle Yeoh) takes her family to a posh hotel in London, England. The staff of this hotel tries to discriminate against her family, until they realize that the owner of their establishment sold the place to the Young family. Fast-forward to 2018, and we meet Rachel Chu (played by Taiwanese-American actress Constance Wu) a professor at New York University who was invited by her boyfriend Nick Young (Malaysian actor Henry Golding) to be part of a friend’s wedding. It’s at this party where she realizes that she’s been dating a member of one of Singapore’s richest families.
The film has all of the silliness of your standard rom-com, set against the backdrop of tropical Southeast Asia, in a world where extravagant mansions, exotic cars, and wild parties are the norm. While the “crazy rich” scenes are ridiculous and over-the-top, the movie still manages to give a serious message about some of the issues that many overseas Asians deal with. Rachel Chu has to deal with being rejected by her boyfriend’s mother, as she feels that an Asian-American immigrant isn’t worthy of being part of her ultrarich old-money Singapore family. This problem is just one of many that Asian-Americans sometimes deal with when they return to their ancestral homelands. The most poignant scene is the “Mahjong parlor” scene, where Rachel plays a game of mahjong with Eleanor. The scene shows the struggles between a commoner and a rich member of the elite in a deeply symbolic way. The movie, perhaps unintentionally, also shows the wealth differences between other Asian nationalities. While all of the rich Asians are either Chinese or Malaysian, their servants are either Indian or Indonesian. The book itself actually mentions that the Young family has hired Filipino housemaids.
Beyond the deep messages that the movie wants to tell, “Crazy Rich Asians” is still a fun, goofy film to enjoy.
The movie has many appearances by famous Asian celebrities. Rachel’s friend Goh Peik Lin (Chinese-Korean rapper Awkwafina) is absolutely hilarious, and adds lots of colorful moments to the film. Nick’s cousin Astrid is played by Gemma Chan, a British-Chinese actress who has appeared in “Doctor Who” and “Sherlock”. Nick’s classmate Bernard Tai is played by Hong Kong actor and stand-up comedian Jimmy O. Yang, who also stars in HBO’s sitcom “Silicon Valley”. There is also an appearance by Filipina ABS-CBN TV personality Kris Aquino as the Malay princess Intan.
Overall, I think that this film is an important step to bringing more visibility to the Asian-American community. Hopefully, this film encourages more Asian-American filmmakers to make movies about their life experiences.
Eastern Echo Grade: A, Worth Watching