Movie Rating: 3 stars
Director: Jon M Chu
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong
A poor girl, a rich boy, an outraged family, billions at stake. We have read this story, seen this film a million times, sometimes as classic (Pride and Prejudice), often as pulp (countless Mills & Boon), mostly as fairytale (Cinderella). Crazy Rich Asians, as the buzz has been saying for quite some time now, is not to be judged by those standards. What it brings to the big screen is the first all-Asian cast in a big Hollywood production since Joy Luck Club more than 20 years ago.
That is not to be taken lightly. But as the trials and the minor tribulations of Chinese-American Rachel Wu (Constance) and her Singaporean Prince Charming Nick Young (Golding) play out, one can’t help but notice that Crazy Rich Asians could be about crazy rich people anywhere. It need not be about Asians, though we must be grateful that it is. It need not be about poor, suffering Asians either, and we are definitely grateful that it isn’t. It tells the world that there are no one kind of Asian, even if it itself has Asians of only one kind, without any Malays or Indians, who also inhabit the world’s most expensive city — as someone put it, what it is about is “the one per cent of the one per cent” in Singapore.
So all Crazy Rich Asians must do actually is work within that narrow space. And that it sneakily does. Its Rachel seems like a real person, surprised by the wealth of Nick but not really overawed by it, and quite proud of her single mom’s achievements after landing in the US as a desperate immigrant from China. It may be a little surprising that Rachel is not aware of who Nick is, given his and his family’s celebrity in Chinese circles, but she is not hiding any of her American independence either once she gets to know.
Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor, the stern matriarch of the Young family, is quite credible too, aware at all times about the hard battle she has waged to be accepted too, and the thin foundation on which this rests. It’s in the head-on intimate scenes between Eleanor and Rachel that the film is the most alive, making the prospect of a sequel all the more juicier.
The glamorous Chan as Nick’s super-beautiful, super-intelligent cousin is great too, and the film’s efforts to flesh out her marriage to a commoner in ways that films rarely do is quite intuitive. Awkwafina, Jeong and Nico Santos as the gay cousin, who calls himself “the rainbow sheep” of the family, all leave impressions with their supporting roles.
It’s Nick himself who is somewhat of a damp squib. A professor in the US — all Youngs, and the like, in Singapore are graduates from Ivy League American colleges, in true tradition of rich Asian families — who is getting his brainy professor girlfriend home, to a family he has told her nothing about, should be more prepared for battle than the Malaysian actor seems.
But that is all the more better as it leaves the field open for the women, and it’s to them that the film ultimately belongs. In its mild battle of the wits yes, but also in its unapologetic celebration of clothes, jewellery and bling. Rachel can be a teacher of The Game Theory,
beat homegrown Chinese at mahjong, enjoy a spa as much as anyone else, and get moved by a bride walking through water dressed as mermaid (that does happen).
Who are we to complain?
P.S : There are two things the film highlights in big bold letters at the start. One is a quote on China, contentiously attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte, that “when she (China) wakes, she will shake the world”. The other is a declaration that the film, whose release in India was delayed (one of the things blurred out is a gutted fish), has ‘India CBFC Certificate’. Guess who is shaking?