UK Release Date: 14th September 2018
Runtime: 121 minutes
Director: Jon M Chu
Writer: Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Chris Pang, Jimmy O Yang, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Nico Santos
Synopsis: A woman meeting her boyfriend’s family for the first time is shocked to discover that he is the heir to one of the richest dynasties in Singapore.
It’s fair to say that Crazy Rich Asians has arrived in UK cinemas on a wave of hype. Jon M Chu‘s adaptation of a beloved 2013 novel smashed box office records in the USA, sitting pretty as the most successful romcom since The Proposal way back in 2009. It certainly isn’t going to do those sorts of numbers on this sides of the Atlantic, but there’s no doubting the notion that the movie is a global phenomenon. Just as well, in that case, that it’s a really enjoyable romcom ride.
Chu’s movie is every bit as opulent, indulgent and gaudy as the bourgeois society it depicts. Refreshingly, it’s the first major Hollywood studio movie in more than 20 years to feature a cast made up entirely of performers of Asian descent. Indeed, the only white faces in the film are smacked down in the opening scene for their intolerant racism, refusing to admit Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) and her family into a fancy hotel. It soon transpires that her family has just brought the place and is, as the title suggests, crazy rich.
Twenty years later, Eleanor’s son Nick (Henry Golding) is living in New York and dating economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu). He invites her to a family wedding in Singapore and, although she was totally oblivious to his wealth before, that changes in a hurry. A first-class upgrade on the plane and an open-mouthed gawp from college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) tells her everything she needs to know about what she’s getting into.
It’s a fairly standard romcom setup, particularly when Yeoh’s character takes a dislike to Rachel and triggers an uphill struggle in search of approval. However, Crazy Rich Asians enlivens that dynamic with a colourful, vibrant selection of supporting characters who feel as if they exist in their own right, rather than just as accessories for the protagonists and their stories. Awkwafina’s Peik Lin, in particular, steals every scene in which she appears and benefits from a sizeable bounty of quotable lines, dubbing the Young family “snoshy” in a grotesque portmanteau of snobby and posh. Her genius in this film almost makes her sidelining in Ocean’s 8 even sadder.
But Awkwafina is not even close to the only standout in the cast. Wu and Golding are delightfully charismatic and relatable as the leads, while Yeoh simply oozes gravitas as the stony tiger mother driven only by her desire to protect her family at all costs. There are also fun supporting parts for brutish best man Jimmy O Yang and Nico Santos as a flamboyant relative who describes himself brilliantly as “the rainbow sheep of the family”. It’s an ensemble that single-handedly disproves the maxim trotted out by white-washing defenders that there simply aren’t enough talented, bankable Asian actors to fill roles.
The problems arise when it comes to the way the story unfolds. At just over two hours long, Crazy Rich Asians is a bloated comedy and one that occasionally becomes bogged down in providing every minor character with a subplot. When the laughs come, they’re hearty, but they’re spread a little too thinly over the course of the lengthy running time. It’s a muddled story in terms of pacing that sags and bloats often, without ever maintaining any sense of forward momentum. The lavish production design and visual flourishes are enjoyable, but the best scenes are the quieter ones, with characters making dumplings or engaging in psychological warfare over a tense Mahjong table.
It’s as if this is a movie trapped in a constant war with itself. In an attempt to conjure cinematic set pieces, it leans on the majestic buildings, absurdly delicious-looking food – don’t see this on an empty stomach – and luxurious fireworks displays rather than allowing the natural charm of the characters to come through. When the interactions between these people are allowed to be the focus, Crazy Rich Asians really lands emotional punches. A Napoleon quote opens the film, declaring that China will “shake the world” when woken. It’s certainly awake now, so let’s see what happens next.
Pop or Poop?
Its cultural significance may be greater than its cinematic achievement, but that doesn’t prevent Crazy Rich Asians from being a kinetic, vivid romcom set against the backdrop of a world of insane luxury. Michelle Yeoh and Constance Wu are ace as warring women, with terrific support from the likes of Awkwafina and Nico Santos.
With that said, it’s bloated and baggy throughout and suffers from a rather scarce bounty of jokes, allowing the visuals to do the entertaining a little too often.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.