Crazy Rich Asians is a vibrant, pulsing, colorful, fun, drama, equipped with entertaining elements like text thread that shows the huge and diverse community of Asians unknown to the world, the great comedic timing and beats throughout the film from Awkafina, Randy Cheing, and Jimmy O. Chang, and a story the grips with light moments of intensity, but at times feels like a push for a sultry romantic comedy than an immersive human story coupled with beautiful imagery. Crazy Rich Asians is an adaptation of author Kevin Kwan’s worldwide best selling novel, and is the first film featuring an all Asian cast in 25 years.
Crazy Rich Asians centers around Rachel (Constance Wu) an economics professor at NYU who has been dating Nick Young (Henry Golding) a fellow NYU professor as they prepare to leave for Singapore for Nick’s best friend’s, Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding. The weekend promises to be Rachel’s indocternatization into Nick’s life. Its been a year or so and Rachel has not yet met Nick’s mother who as we see at the outset of the film as successful, ambitious, confident, and beautiful like Rachel. Eleanore played by legendary actress Michele Yeoh is smart, ruthless, and shows the uttermost loyalty to her family–this last part, and the fact that fact that Rachel may have an edge of her because she is American, makes her not like Rachel. Rachel makes money, but in the world of these wealthy Asians that is not enough, and Nick, unknown, to Rachel, is one the most popular and wealthiest bachelors in these wealthy communities. Another problem lurks over Rachel, the fact that she may not be accepted because she is Chinese, dash, American.
Rachel is not ruthless and she her not being “real chinese” comes to be perceived as reckless and non serious by Eleanor which annoys her, and puts her at a disadvantage with her. Rachel is does not consider herself to be “real Chinese” and is told so in a scene where her mother (Kheng Hua Tan) demonstrates this when the two shop for clothes for the trip. Rachel is excited to go Singapore to meet Nick’s people and engross with the culture and language she was denied by growing up in America. She is not entirely insecure about her cultural upbringing but she is not satisfied. She enters into the situation ready prove herself and learn. When the two touch down in Singapore and meet up with Colin and fiance Aramita, (Sonoya Mizuno) at the airport, the film moves into a beautiful montage of the Singapore food markets, and local community, pauses into the four eating lunch and enjoying traditional food, and settles down into a shot of the four jetting down the high way, Rachel has put herself in, and makes herself available— she is not shy, she is not over eager to impress, or to be accepted, but is present. She is herself, which calls attention the freedom in her identity, and how she is privileged of not having privilege, which the rich society finds to be untrustworthy, and expository, and enrage Eleanore.
One character that comes to mind who is challenged by Rachel’s presence is Astrid, (Gemma Chan) Nick’s cousin, a reserved, beautiful women, who performs saintly duties for her family, hides expensive watches and shoes from her husband to make him feel more secure about his financial position, and whom often wonders in this rich society like someone lacking real thought of her own, lacking an identity, only finding herself in bathroom mirrors. When Nick’s important ladies are cross paths a hostile vibe generates, and one see how uncomfortable Astrid is around Rachel, exposed for what she is trying to hide, and a bit threatened. Rachel’s presence does this with everyone in immediate, circle. Yet, another obstacle she has to deal with. Astrid dos not go against Rachel, but better yet lets interaction sink in and becomes an ally to Rachel. This brings up the problem at the heart of Crazy Rich Asians—the challenge of how one can leap into living the life that they truly want to live, and what people must give up to do that.
Throughout the film, the idea of the public vs private runs rampant. For the entire film we are brought into big spaces like mansions, where the socialites maintain the lie of enjoyment, and who they appear to be in public. In lavish spaces such as large hotel roofs, cruise liner parties, private airport hangers, and secluded garden parties with landscape reminiscent of the forest of Alice in wonderland, talk investments and gossip, while in private the true feelings are revealed. At a dinner party at Elenore’s mansion, where rooms are filled with expensive, antique, furniture and most of the walls are painted green, with all over print flowers, a full bar room, and a huge garden overlooking a river, Nick and Rachel come to encounter this more. In a Great Gastby party type of scenario, we move through the party witnessing the fabulous rich society of Singapore, displaying the diversity of the wealthy community, even to a scene where the rest of the wedding party arrives, and we are introduced to this group in a circular camera motion with a set and costume design that looks straight out of a Burberry add in Korean Vogue, and gives you the feeling of a cool, yet nefarious, but interesting bunch. We see here how group behaves differently for photos and upon first greetings, but after these eventful moments, people separate, and live as authentic as they can for that period of time, and move further into real iterations of life. One socialite played by perfectly by Cheing, dismisses his wife and kids after the photo shoot charade of a perfect family, and allows her to talk to other men, and his kids to float away, and plops down on a love seat for drinks. It gets a great laugh but the feeling left over is one of sadness. crane shots and long shots, bringing us into big spaces like hotels, and rivers, and, skyscrapers, but it often feels like something is missing, something not totally set. Chu shows us the beautiful, enormous buildings in Singapore and that is all it feels like at times–a depiction of place. He works hard to engross us and engage us in the set, instead of the people. And all by means this a movie about people.
Even in scenes throughout, there are wide angle shots guests, and wide angle, close up shots put together with shot reverse shots, every time we see people get into conversation. The conversations take on an interview feel and look, whenever someone speaks to Rachel, or Rachel and Nick, and brings about a weird, uneasiness, crudeness, rudeness, and at times plays for awkward comedic relief, and shows that these people are mostly lifeless, and that Rachel and Nick must survive this weekend with as much determination as possible. The dissatisfaction of these people here is demonstrated by these wide-angle shots and camera placement of head and chest, with the background of a blank, wide space, that makes them come off like robots rather than people, and mixed with the colors of green and black, bring about the feeling of contempt, disapproval of the aunties, Eleanor and older guests, the nastiness, as well the desire and want for something more, but probably will never try to gain more, and probably never will obtain it. The scenes at the party bring on a heavy, sad, and a wanting feeling to not have to live behind the scenes. Even when we meet the sole gay character, standing at the bar beneath green light, Oliver, (Nico Santos), he admits to Rachel that he is jealous because, as he says, “you have the guts to show auntie Eleanor the real you while I have to hide”.
Crazy Rich Asians is a tale of people allowing the fear of going against or modifying status and function in order to live a life you truly want, and living between being seen and wanting to be seen, and deciding on what to show. But this feeling does not come through and that is mostly due to Chu’s directorial choices. Chu shows us the beautiful, enormous buildings and spaces of the wealthy, and that is all, and the film feel sometimes like a depiction of place. He works hard to engross us and engage us in the set, instead of the people. And all by means this a movie about people.
The pressure of living authentically doesn’t effect Rachel but it does provide a problem. And the consequences of Nick’s wealth and power become more of an issue for him as more folks of the wedding party and members of society bring this truth out of him. The private starts to work as a space to reveal as well as get push into the open. In a scene where Nick hangs with Colin on a boat on huge river, and talks Nick’s business ventures, Colin outright, says that things will be hard for Rachel if she is unaware of his wealth, and what expectations of her come with the wealth and fame. At the dinner party, in private, Astrid tells Nick of his responsibility of preparing Rachel for the life. At a spa, Nick’s ex, hangs with Rachel, divulging information that puts Rachel in an emotional stir, and sets her up for the women of the society to play a hurtful, stomach turning prank on her. As the wedding and events draw nearer pressure on Racehl and Nick mounts to make to an impression on the mother, and feel apart of the society. After Eleanore lays into Rachel that she is not good enough for Nick, a day before the wedding, Rachel must choose between trying to impress Eleanor or being herself. Nick, now hos to choose between pursuing his business venture and Rachel and losing his mother and grandmother. And at the same time Eleanore must choose between letting go of a tradition or losing a son. It is here where the film’s stakes rise and the dilemma of living freely, and or remaining safe, becomes a point of crisis. What we get in CRA, is a gambit of people having to deal with how they are going to go beyond their limitations. Rachel and Nick, and even Astrid and Eleanore have to deal with the contraption of the private and the public and having to see how this works for them, and everyone else around them, and the community. Nick must be pushed into action or he won’t, and people like Astrid and Elenore must choose as well, and eventually come from behind the fences that they have built and have been placed in front of them by society or not, whether it is wealth and family duties or tradition, and world views and start to live their lives.
The comedic relief for both Rachel, the audience, and the movie, are the characters of Piek Lin Gou, Rachel’s friend (Awkwafina) and Wy Mun Gou (Ken Jeong) a family not as rich as the other families, but find comfort and happiness in themselves. Awkwafina is surprisingly good, especially when she and Rachel are on the way to the dinner and she bugs out over how Rachel doesn’t know how rich Nick is. Her movements are funny, spastic, and visceral, and it is interesting as well amazing how even in a film that is often so tight that at it squeezes out some of important information about characters and situation, making it a tad bit simplistic, Awkwafina portrays a little bit of feeling right from under the director’s stiff contraption. It is one of the most humanistic moments in the movie.
Crazy Rich Asians is a film that wants the audience to believe that there is another way of living in the world, other than what you know, that not being one thing guarantees safety and success, and about attempting to make things work. It is about seeing that what you choose to do for yourself will change the outer perceptions of you and only bring joy and the ability to change the space you are in and others around you. And yes, how love can change you and those around you.