What I'm Watching: Crazy Rich Asians
To say I was excited about “Crazy Rich Asians” would be putting it mildly. For evidence, see my Twitter feed. However, it is in instances such as these when great anticipation risks being met with greater dissatisfaction. Especially when you consider enough time has passed for an entire generation to be born and raised for an entirely Asian cast after "Joy Luck Club" in 1993. Talk about pressure. But after catching an early screening this week, I am happy to say that this is not one of those times.
Prior to sitting down to watch "Crazy Rich Asians", I had read the novel it is based on. I will spare you the “in the book” comparisons and leave a link down below should you want to purchase a copy for yourself but I will say what director John M. Chu, screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli, and the rest of the team behind this film managed to do is capture the tone and themes presented on the page by Kevin Kwan in fantastic fashion. The creative liberties that were taken to condense over five hundred pages to a hair over two hours – including the combining of characters, and yes, even the exclusions of some subplots – are entirely justified and do not detract from the story.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a confident, intelligent, beautiful young woman. She is nothing shy of an incredible catch for any lucky man. Besides, she’s Chinese just like her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding) so surely, when she travels to Singapore to meet his family for the first time she won’t feel like a fish out of water immersed in a culture akin to her own. Her confusion at her mother’s nerves is – to most – completely understandable. For those of you in families that have left their homeland and ever been back to visit, this might be one of those parts where you sit back and say in your mind, “Oh, honey.”
The movie wastes no time educating us on how tightly knit the community Nick comes from is despite spanning the globe. The short introductory sequence could be perceived as throwaway or even cartoonish in its demonstration of how quickly information travels but in the span of three minutes, also demonstrates the resources available the multiple antagonists have at their disposal to make it impossible for Rachel (Constance Wu) to have any control over the first impression her boyfriend’s circle has of her. She’s the poor sod bringing a knife to a gunfight and the battle starts before she’s even boarded the plane. First class.
The torment both overt and covert Rachel suffers at the hands of Nick’s relations causes Rachel to question not only whether the love she shares with her boyfriend is enough to overcome the obvious obstacles they will face if they stay together but also whether she is enough within herself to be a part of a world she thought she knew so well that was proving to be entirely foreign. Or perhaps more accurately, that she is entirely foreign. This. This is what stood out to me the most and in my opinion, makes this movie a love letter to the Asian diaspora.
I wouldn’t blame you for calling this an “Asian” movie. I mean, “Asian” is literally in the title. It takes place in Asia, we are repeatedly reminded of the Chinese-ness of the characters - but the setting of the book and film in Singapore is under-emphasized. At least, its affluence is played up rather than its influences. Kwan and Chu do their best to make note of this rich intermixing of cultural groups by bouncing between languages and putting the city’s street food scene on display. Like the metropolis, its inhabitants, and its cuisine, this film takes what is beautiful about its heritage(s) to create something all its own. Neither completely Asian nor completely Western. It is in this melding of flavors that "Crazy Rich Asians" truly shines to prove to all – and more importantly to ourselves – no matter if you're Asian, African American, Hispanic, or a mutt like me, we are enough.
Click HERE to purchase tickets at a theater near you.
Click HERE to purchase a copy of the novel by Kevin Kwan or visit your local bookstore.
And, click HERE to read my previous blog on inequality in the film industry.