Jon M. Chu
Crazy Rich Asians
When Nick leads Rachel to the first-class cabin, where the seats are cushioned and lustrous, and where they give you luxe, silken pajamas so nice that your streetwear suddenly feels substandard, she realizes something. Nick, who overuses a Jamba Juice punch card and Rachel's Netflix account so he doesn’t have to buy his own, might have more money than he’s letting on. Says Nick, with a laugh, when his beloved asks about his family: “We’re comfortable.” Rachel rolls her eyes. That’s exactly what someone who comes from money would say.
Shortly after arriving, our protagonist learns, via an old Singapore-based college friend, the zealous Peik Lin (a scene-stealing Awkwafina), that Nick isn’t just rich — he’s crazy rich. His family, the Youngs, are real-estate developers whose preeminence dates back to the 1800s.
Decadence, which will come to be a defining part of Rachel’s visit, will be the least of her worries, though. Soon at the top of her imagined list of priorities is making a good impression on the Youngs — especially Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who is convinced that the ambitious, independent Rachel will have a negative impact on the son she wants so badly to return home.
We, by contrast, know that Rachel, quick-witted and considerate, is tailor-made for Nick, and that makes her struggle to impress the ever-frosty Eleanor — and, really, the majority of the people oriented peripherally — ring with urgency. But it isn’t just this strained desperation to please with which we sympathize. Also prominent is class disparity (Rachel was raised by a self-made single mother) and the possessing of a looked-down-on hyphenated identity. Rachel feels like an outsider, and her yearning to fit in is felt. The film, ultimately, is an opulent, ornately ornamented romantic comedy that brings to mind the plush romantic larks popular during Hollywood’s Golden Age. But these omnipresent conflicts provide additional depth.
Crazy Rich Asians is further notable for being the first film featuring an all-Asian cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club to have been released by a top-ranking studio. Because it makes for a head-scratchingly long-delayed step forward for representation, unfair pressure, in terms of providing the sort of impossible-to-achieve all-encompassing type of onscreen portrayal, has been put on the movie. Since Crazy Rich Asians cannot be universal — though perhaps some of the smaller details are in some shape or form — one hopes it will, instead, beckon in more similarly budgeted and released Asian-majority features. It should not have to be comprehensively representative.
Weighty expectations notwithstanding, I found Crazy Rich Asians exuberant: a cut above most rom-coms, simplistically, but, more far-reachingly, an empathetic capturing of identity conflict. I’d like to see more. And maybe I’ll get to: Kwan has published two sequels — 2015’s Crazy Rich Girlfriend and 2017’s Rich People Problems — and that makes me hopeful that this won’t be the last time we get to spend time with, aside from on the page, these characters. B
here is a moment in Crazy Rich Asians (2018), Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of the Kevin Kwan novel of the same name, where the heroine, economics professor Rachel (a wonderful Constance Wu), has an epiphany. She is boarding a Singapore-bound plane with her boyfriend of about a year, fellow New York University lecturer Nick (Henry Golding). Nick’s best friend, Colin (Chris Pang), is getting married, and has asked the former to be his best man; Nick, thinking that Rachel just might be the one, figures the trip to the island country will also make for a fitting excuse to introduce her to his family.