The all-star cast charm with their energy, the script is filled with the one-liners to borrow, while the swanky set design and costumes pull us into the world of glitz and glamour in Crazy Rich Asians, a fantastic romcom with reinvigorated themes.
“Romantic comedies? In this economy?!” the studio executives and film fans alike often scratch their heads in the times when the multi-million franchises take over the box office and the mid-budget films disappear under the rule of the polarised, blockbuster-driven mainstream film offer. But there’s been somewhat of a revival of the genre in a refreshed format. The likes of Netflix have delivered the films to this underserved market, proving that they’ve never been dead – after all, we all love an ol’ good rom-com. And Crazy Rich Asians, a mid-budget film with grand expectations mirrored in the conversations around it, arrives just at the right time, bringing us the tribulations of Rachel and Nick, who are head over heels for each other but tangled in complex family relations.
The charming film is also the first major studio film of this century featuring an all-Asian cast to tell the story that uses the romcom format and weaves cultural elements into it, hitting the sweet spot in balancing the both. It delivers a lovely, heart-warming flick with laugh-out-loud moments, charismatic leads and a touch of glamour, and it’s totally unapologetic about this final ingredient. The film isn’t just rich in lavish details of the set design, but crazy rich and not afraid to show it off. Dazzling costumes are embellished with sequins, feathers and whatnot, the luxurious interiors look like a page torn out of a celebrity magazine, the parties are spectacular, and the scenic locations adorn this fantasy to complete its dreamy filmscape.
The film reimagines a well-known love story motif for the modern times. When Nick invites Rachel to a wedding back in Singapore, she knows little about her partner’s family until she walks into a private suite on a plane and starts a conversation about them. And only when she meets her old university friend, she discovers that her boyfriend is an heir of an affluent and influential family that has somewhat of a royal status. Perplexed but well-intentioned and optimistic, she sets out to meet Nick’s relatives during various family events. She’s warmly welcomed by some of his cousins and analysed from the get-go by the slew of celebrities and influencers of his world, which doesn’t make her feel at ease. When she finally gets to meet his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), the matriarch sets the boundaries immediately, making the distance between them very clear.
Directed by Jon M. Chu (of Step Up films and Now You See Me 2 fame), the film knows its rom-com tropes and follows them through and through. But the film feels insanely fresh nevertheless: it ventures into the culture that many of the studio films neglect so often, and it uses a whole lot of fascinating details to make it come alive. Be it the family class in dumpling making or the game of mah-jong, these little pieces of the puzzle pave the way for the bigger picture: the portrayal of the family, new rich versus old money, or the subtle differences between the communities driven by a different upbringing. But it also plays with the convention of the genre to make it feel more modern.
One of the most refreshing elements is the characterisation of the lady at the very heart of the story. Rachel (Constance Wu) is a fully independent, confident woman, far from the hot mess many heroines of the genre are. Our protagonist holds a degree in economics, lectures game theory at the university and doesn’t need a knight in shiny armour to rescue her. She’s proud of her mum, who raised her on their own (another interesting back-story develops here) and helped her to follow her heart and fulfil her dreams. Her friends always have her back, supporting her in the world that feels completely new to her. Even in the face of a rather macabre prank, she stays strong and refuses to give in – she tries to solve problems on her own and becomes a top player in the game she found herself tangled into. Nick (Henry Golding) is a dashing Prince Charming, but he’s a loving partner rather than a saviour the leading lady depends on.
The all-star cast also never fails to keep us entertained. From magnificent leads Constance Wu and Henry Golding, charismatic Michelle Yeoh as the head of Young family, gutsy and hilarious Awkwafina to Gemma Chan that can lift you up with a smile and kill with a stone-cold remark, they’re all having a whole lot of fun with their roles, bringing the story to the audience with a whole lot of humour. All of them create distinctive, memorable characters that battle the challenges of their own that reveal an interesting portrayal of a tight-knit community with a variety of approaches to their status and to each other.
Crazy Rich Asians is an entertaining, genuine, light-hearted return to the genre that stayed in the shadows of big blockbusters for a long while. Revamping the conventions, it provides a pleasant change to the archetypes we grew accustomed to and shines a spotlight on the top talent as well as the culture that hasn’t got the attention it deserves in Hollywood. Let’s hope we get more of all these factors from the big film studios very soon.
Crazy Rich Asians opens in the UK on the 14th of September.
- Crazy Rich Asians (2018)