Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Cinderella is a popular trope in romantic comedy despite its innate sexism. Mix it together with Western unease over the surging might of Chinese capitalism, add a level of excess that even Baz Luhrmann would envy, and you have the core ingredients for the lightweight entertainment that is Crazy Rich Asians(2018).
An ultra-simple plot and loads of visual opulence are the drawcards for this film. New York University academics Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Mick Young (Henry Golding) have been dating for a year when he invites her to meet his parents in Singapore. It is not until they board their business-class luxury lounge that Rachel suspects Mick and his family are very rich. When they arrive, she learns that Mick is from one of the wealthiest families in Asia. In every Cinderella story, there is a wicked witch: here it is Mick’s imperious and disapproving mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). The romance hits hurdles as Mick’s family and friends do their best to send her packing. That’s it.
With such a thin narrative, what makes this film so entertaining? Certainly not the all-Asian American cast. In particular, thirty-something Rachel is unconvincing as a top-tier Professor of Economics, and Mick’s ‘deer-in-the-headlight’ naivety makes him a limp Prince Charming. The comedy is pitched at chuckle level rather than belly laughs, except for one ridiculous scene. At a friend’s wedding, the bride and her entourage walk down a water-canal aisle to be married in soaking shoes and water-logged gown: as if any bride in the world would do that. It is the one scene that most reveals the latent satirical streak running through the film: crazy rich Asians mocking crazy rich Americans. With ‘punch a Yankee nose’ gags about American values and an over-the-top display of opulent fashion, jewellery, cars, and homes bordering on fantasy, the film taunts those who are discomforted by the rise of the world’s newest economic powerhouse.
The cinematography takes teasing to another level. Close ups on glitzy trappings of extreme wealth; stunning travelogue shots of Singapore’s hyper-modern architecture; close-frames on mouth-watering Asian cuisine in exciting marketplaces and grand mansions; all combine to make this film a visual treat. The messages are not only for Americans: the borderline gag calling Asian diaspora ‘bananas’ (‘yellow outside, white inside’) is a reminder that home beckons.
As with all films, what you see depends on where you look. Most will enjoy the sparkly entertainment and see Rachel’s ‘love conquers all’ story standing tall for all women. But bear in mind: while we laugh at the film it is laughing at us.
Director: Jon M. Chu
Stars: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh