Crazy Rich Asians

 

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The hit Singapore-set adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-seller gives a fresh and very funny spin to the romcom.


Crazy Rich Asians

A wealth of possibility: Ken Jeong, Constance Wu and Awkwafina

 

It’s complete fantasy, of course. In real life, no mixed-race American woman from a broken home, however beautiful, could be wooed by a Prince Charming from a pre-eminent family. Furthermore, Jon M. Chu's box-office hit, adapted from the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan, mines all the familiar tropes of the romcom, but it does so with enormous aplomb. In fact, Cho’s singularly stylish film, starting off in London in 1995, hits the ground running, giving a fresh, modern spin to its Cinderella theme, embossed with a raft of vivid, colourful supporting characters and a terrific soundtrack.

 

Cutting forward to 2018, the film introduces us to Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at New York University who teaches her class that the art of success is playing “to win,” unlike the impulsive and ambitious who play “not to lose.” She’s obviously one smart cookie and is not afraid to be herself, having been raised to embrace integrity by her single mom (Tan Kheng Hua). It is this quality that attracts Nick Young (Henry Golding), who invites her to Singapore to meet his family and to attend the wedding of an old friend. Sitting at the bar of a New York restaurant, he proposes the idea to her and before she’s finished her pudding, news of her visit has already reached Southeast Asia. In a snappy montage, she is captured on an iPhone and a network of prying contacts put two and two together. What Rachel doesn’t know is just how well-connected her boyfriend is, a reality that begins to sink in when they board a plane and are assigned a first class suite on the flight. Nick admits that his family is “comfortable,” but there’s comfortable and there’s crazy rich. Indeed, there’s plenty of excess in this billionaire’s playground, yet it’s the throwaway detail that brings one up short. Nick hasn’t lived in Singapore for over a year, but his mother (an icy Michelle Yeoh) still has his shirts laundered and ironed twice a month.

 

Exhibiting the same vitality and visual chutzpah of Slumdog Millionaire, Crazy Rich Asians taps into a global market voracious for all things Southeast Asian. The film opened at the No. 1 slot in the US and stayed there for three weeks, astounding even the most sanguine of Hollywood clairvoyants. These days word-of-mouth can be viral and the film’s feel-good factor and spotlight on a fabulous new Paradise (Singapore) is simply irresistible. It’s also anchored by a touching central romance and characters worthy of their own stand-alone sequels. There’s Nick’s cousin Astrid Leong-Teo (Gemma Chan), a drop-dead gorgeous clotheshorse and shopaholic who reveals a touching probity later in the film, as well as outrageous comic turns from the rapper Awkwafina (as an old college friend of Rachel’s) and the Manila-born Nico Santos (as a wildly camp cousin of Nick’s). But it’s the script that holds the whole thing together. When Rachel tries on a series of dresses for an event, one little number prompts Awkwafina to bawl: “you look like a slutty Ebola virus!” Rachel herself admits that she’s so Chinese, being “an economy professor who’s lactose intolerant.” But the line that really made this critic howl was Ken Jeong chastising his children: “Eat up your chicken nuggets, there's a lot of children starving in America.” Of course, it sheds a whole new light on a changing world, but one still mired in centuries-old hypocrisy.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Tan Kheng Hua.

 

Dir Jon M. Chu, Pro Nina Jacobson, Brad Simpson and John Penotti, Screenplay Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, from the novel by Kevin Kwan, Ph Vanja Cernjul, Pro Des Nelson Coates, Ed Myron Kerstein, Music Brian Tyler, Costumes Mary E. Vogt.

 

SK Global Entertainment/Starlight Culture Entertainment/Color Force/Ivanhoe Pictures/Electric Somewhere-Warner Bros

120 mins. USA. 2018. Rel: 14 September 2018. Cert. 12A.