Director Jon M. Chu’s screen version of Kevin Kwan’s novel is different than anything in movie theaters these days. Apart from its being cast almost totally with Asians, a major breakthrough in itself, “Crazy Rich Asians” transports us into the sumptuous Singapore environment of the enormously wealthy. Perhaps Singapore’s disadvantaged whom we don’t meet would argue for equal time. But as a result of its setting, the film is dazzling to watch (cinematography by Vanja Cernjul), including broad shots of Singapore that may make you curious and want to book a flight, even though the screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim is shamelessly clichéd.
The characters depicted, whether sympathetic or unsympathetic, are amusing to watch despite the banal plot—a rich guy is in love with a woman with no money or social distinction and she faces a hostile reception when brought home to mother. In the buildup the gal is almost overpowered by the utter luxury and massive rejection that she faces. Care to guess how it works out?
The lovers are Nick Young, ardently played by handsome Henry Golding, and Rachel Chu, enacted with charm plus by Constance Wu. Rachel is a professor of economics at New York University. She and Nick look every bit meant for one another, but among Rachel’s drawbacks in the eyes of Nick’s mother is that she is Chinese-American, viewed as a deviation from pure Chinese in the tradition of the Young family dynasty. The occasion for returning to Singapore is a wedding at which Nick is to be best man.
Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young, played by Michelle Yeoh, is a piece of work. Dominating and imperious, she wants her son back after a year of his absence and wants to get rid of Rachel in a hurry. It is amusing to watch the performance of Ms. Yeoh, who as Eleanor establishes her power in an earlier London hotel scene. When she is denied her reservation as a result of discrimination, with a phone call she quickly arranges for her husband to buy the joint, and into her suite she moves. Rachel has a formidable adversary. Can she stand her ground and survive a face-off with her potential mother-in-law from hell?
The film is populated with a wide assortment of characters, including Rachel’s oddball friend comically played by Awkwafina. There are expensively dressed women galore, who are mostly portrayed as bitchy and hopelessly vacuous. Conversely, within its plot the film also strikes a blow for women becoming more independent.
The flashy opulence is overwhelming. The wedding is unbelievably spectacular, and a bachelor party aboard a ship looks like a Hollywood extravaganza. It is easy to see why “Crazy Rich Asians” can achieve popularity. While its casting alone makes it unique, audiences may crave something very different, and as clichéd as the plot is, the lead performers are likely to make many root for the lovers despite the corn. Singapore anyone? A Warner Bros. release. Reviewed August 20, 2018.