Crazy Rich Asians is an adaptation of the first book of the same name from Kevin Kwan's trilogy. Rachel Chu, our main protagonist, and her boyfriend, Nick Young, have been dating for a while when he asks her to visit Singapore with him for a friend's wedding and to meet his family. But what Nick hasn't mentioned to Rachel is that his family is rich. Like, the ridiculously stupid and crazy kind rich, where his family are basically considered near royalty because of their wealth and status. So Rachel is thrust into this world she is unfamiliar with and tries her hardest to navigate herself through this elite lifestyle, along with impressing Nick's mother who deems her unworthy to be involved with her son. The movie may be a romantic comedy but it also explores different relationships, from romantic to familial and friendships, along with the different cultural expectations and the push/pull of modern versus traditional values.
It's been well established that Crazy Rich Asians is monumental when it comes to Asian representation on the big screen in Hollywood, something we haven't seen in over 25 years. The film has since grossed over $200 million at the box office and has become the biggest successful romantic comedy in a long, long time.
Keep in mind that, while I have the first book (the entire trilogy, even) I haven't started reading yet so I went into this movie completely blind and will be reviewing it as such. So there will be no comparisons or spoilers for the books.
Aspects of the movie I loved:
→ What I absolutely loved most was highlighting the differences between someone who is Asian-American and an Asian from mainland Asia. This isn't something that Western media hardly focuses on which is an important factor of the Asian-American experience, and seeing it emphasized in the film was such a breath of fresh air and vital for many people to understand how isolating and confusing it can be. While Rachel Chu is Chinese the film makes it a point that she is Chinese-American, she has very westernized views and values that contradict the traditional values of mainland Chinese people. So not only is she viewed as an outsider for being "poor" in comparison to the 1% of the Singaporean elite society, she is also considered a foreigner due to having been born and raised in America. Imagine, living in a country that considers anyone who isn't white as "the Other" and viewed as a foreigner because of that and been inflicted with racism constantly, only to then visit the homeland of your heritage and also being viewed as a foreigner and an outsider because we were not born there. Imagine how isolating that can be. So the film really does a great job at showcasing that kind of xenophobia, and letting other people see that just because someone is Asian (or any other ethnicity for that matter) doesn't always mean that they are 100% connected with the homeland of their culture.
(It also makes me glad that they didn't whitewash the role of Rachel as it was previously suggested by studios, because while most of Hollywood would think it's not a big deal of a change, we've already seen countless of stories where a white person goes to another country and is hit with culture shock. We have never gotten the Asian-American in Asia experience, which demonstrates that not all Asian experiences are the same, and highlighting the reality of Asian diaspora. Keeping Rachel Asian makes this movie and story 100% the Asian experience, and it's a big difference than making her white which erases the importance of such a topic worth discussing.)
→ The opening scene of the film also depicts the classic racism against Asians, that no matter your status you're always going to be discriminated against because of your race. At least Eleanor had the means to give the classiest "fuck you" to them by becoming the owner of the hotel establishment that tried to discriminate against her and her family mere moments ago.
→ While this is a romantic comedy, I love that the film focuses on the strengths of the women, and each of their individual stories and struggles are shown to demonstrate that while their situations are different, they are still strong and powerful women in their own right.
→ Also, I really liked that despite this being a romantic comedy it does subvert certain tropes that are often associated with the genre. Yes, parts of it are still following the similar fairytale formula, but at the same time it also introduces us to some new concepts that really break away from the regular expectations. For example, in most romcoms it's usually the story of two people meeting each other for the first time and falling in love, with all the missteps and awkward misunderstandings along the way. However, Rachel and Nick have already been dating for some time now and we get to see just how much they love each other. There is no conflict between them, the only setbacks are the rich family and elite society and the societal expectations of that world. Hell, even when Rachel expresses to Nick how she didn't like being blindsided by everything and how he wasn't entirely honest with her about his family and his status in Singapore, they actually have a conversation and talk it out. They communicated with each other like mature adults. Again, not something you see a lot of, not just in romcoms but in all kinds of fiction. In fact, many of the conversations and interactions felt more natural and grounded than what we're so used to seeing. Even Rachel as our protagonist, since romcoms usually have the main girl be slightly ditzy or over-the-top to make her "relatable" to the audience, but no. Rachel is relatable as it is with her being nice, friendly, personable, and even though she is out of her element she tries to learn and understand as she goes along. It makes sense since she's the catalyst for the audience to experience this right alongside with her.
So, I guess what I'm saying is that I love that the film mixes the familiar romcom aspects with subverting some of the well-known tropes and doing something new and refreshing with the story. It felt good watching something that I didn't have to roll my eyes at the typical romcom nonsense.
→ The social media scene at the beginning was bonkers, but also an incredible sequence which visually details how fast technology has become. All it takes is one picture being taken and sent and it goes down the grapevine of finding out who Rachel is and it getting back to Nick's mother, all within a few minutes from when the picture was taken and sent.
→ Awkwafina as Peik Lin was absolutely hilarious. I loved her and Rachel's friendship, that while she is the hilarious best friend, she is also a good friend when Rachel needed comfort and support, not to mention advice.
→ The wedding was absolutely ridiculously extravagant and gorgeous, I mean if you're gonna have a blown out wedding you better be creative and that was one of the best creative ways of walking down the aisle I've ever seen. It was so beautiful and whimsical and fits with the fairytale theme of a wedding in a romcom. Just amazing.
→ Astrid Leong is such a kindhearted and beautiful soul, and I want her to have the best of the whole world. Her entire storyline was so well-done, it was heartbreaking but at the same time gratifying and cathartic with how it was resolved. Her line to her cheating (ex) husband at the end, "It's not my job to make you feel like a man. I can't make you something you're not." was so brutal but delivered in such a soft and sensible manner. Plus, her basically adorning the lavish jewelry she bought that she previously hid to spare the feelings of her insecure ex-husband frail male ego, and walking out and going to one of her 14 apartments that she owns and living the life she wants to was such a power move. Just, fuck Michael. Astrid gave him everything, she even sacrificed and hid parts of herself away for his benefit, and that still wasn't good enough for him, and then he tried to gaslight her, attempting to blame her for everything. But I'm glad that Astrid was strong enough to basically throw it back in his face. He's a coward, and she deserves better than him.
I also adored her and Rachel's friendship, and I like that there was a connection with both their storylines, and that they both leaned on each other for comfort when things were spiraling for them. I really hope that we get more of them in the next movie. And just, more Astrid in general, please. This movie made me fall further in love with Gemma Chan than I already did.
→ Speaking of the spiraling, there were many points of the movie that hit the hardest for me emotionally. First was during the bachelorette party, when we have the reveal that the girl Rachel met, Amanda, was actually a backstabbing gossiping snake who meant to intimidate and humiliate her. It doesn't appear that way at all when we are first introduced to her, as she comes across as very nice and genuine, even when she is talking about how she was Nick's ex and making all these other comments it feels like she's just chatting away making small girl talk, and it's not until Rachel ends up leaving that we see that she's one of the mean rich girls. It was so well-done, and so realistic, almost too realistic since we've all dealt with two-faced people. It was not cartoonish in the way we see a lot of the time in media, but done in a "this person seems like they're nice...oh shit, they're actually not, what a 180 turn", and it was too real for me because I've had my fair share of those people in my life. The second moment was when Eleanor ran a background check on Rachel's family behind their backs and revealed personal, private information that Rachel herself didn't know. From that to Rachel running away from the wedding reception party in humiliation and frustration, it hit that emotional spot for me. The third came after when her mother appeared and they were having a lovely mother-daughter heart-to-heart.
→ The food in this movie made me so hungry, like omg. The street food scene in particular, just the way it all seemed natural and real with them gathering up as much food as possible and just shamelessly eating and enjoying the food. That is how food sequences should be.
→ I feel like so many people have commented on the importance of the Mahjong scene, and the meaning behind why Rachel intentionally allowed Eleanor to win. It goes back to the first scene we see with her in her classroom demonstrating game theory to her students, and this was very much a moment where she was making a point, not necessarily to Eleanor, but to herself. In that moment, by letting Eleanor win, she was also winning, because she had confidence in herself which she hadn't really had during her time in Singapore. This was her in her element, and she was willing to walk away from the man she loves because she doesn't want to tear him away from his family. It was such a power move that works so well. Plus, the lingering silent moment of Rachel's mom and Eleanor staring and acknowledging each other, that was also so great as well.
→ And yes, I was delighted by the surprise of the ring reveal during the second proposal on the plane. It was an excellent way of drawing attention that, yes, both Rachel and the audience knows the importance of Eleanor's ring, the meaning behind it, and the fact that Nick is proposing it to her with it means that Eleanor has given him her blessing. And it was such a wonderful, beautiful callback and excellent, beautiful moment.
There's probably more that I wanted to mention, but these were the ones that I could remember from the top of my head. Heh. You can tell that I really enjoyed this movie a whole lot?
Addressing the criticisms.
So, naturally, when this film was announced and even when it premiered, there's been a lot of criticisms surrounding it, from the books written by Kevin Kwan to the accuracy of the Asian experience. I've seen and read many of these criticisms, and I think some of them are incredibly valid. One of them was that this film doesn't feature anyone other than those of Chinese descent, that it doesn't accurately represent the Singaporean society which is quite diverse. That is quite true, and it does suck that nobody from other Asian cultures that live there were featured, even just in the background or among the party guests, since we all know what it's like to be neglected from representation. I'm hoping that the next movie will be more inclusive in that sense.
With that being said, both the actors and those behind the film have acknowledged that the film is definitely not be about every Asian experience. It wasn't set out to be "the best representation ever" type of film, but more that this is a Hollywood-funded film featuring an all-Asian cast that hopefully it gets enough attention to pave way for future major films and projects that feature other Asian cultures of their various experiences and stories.
I saw someone else mention that, because of the limited representation for Asians in Hollywood and Western media in general, having anything featuring it has us putting it on such a highest regards, which is true. Is Crazy Rich Asians a perfect film? No. Don't get me wrong, it absolutely deserves the praise it's getting particularly for box office numbers, but it does have issues that are worth addressing and I think these critiques are crucial to fixing the problems in the future.
Overall: Crazy Rich Asians is a fun and entertaining romantic comedy that I enjoyed immensely. I laughed, I cried, I was beaming at all the Asians on the big screen and amazed at all the in-jokes (I'm not Chinese, but I am Asian-American, half-Indonesian specifically, and so there were little moments here and there that I could relate to or understood based on the Asian side of my family). Romantic comedies aren't really my preferred genre, but there are a handful of them that I genuinely like and this is one of them. The performances were top-notch, particularly that of Michelle Yeoh, Constance Wu, Awkwafina, and Gemma Chan respectively, and it was just simply entertaining from beginning to end. I cannot wait to see the rest of the series being adapted.
Romantic comedies have been out of the limelight since superhero movies, action blockbusters and the endless stream of remakes/sequels/franchises have taken over. There is next to nothing of the solo lighthearted and fluffy movies in the theaters anymore. But, thanks to such things like To All The Boys I've Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians, the romantic comedy genre has been in a sorta resurgence, now with POC/marginalized groups as the leading main characters of these stories. And hopefully we'll keep this up along with subverting the genre entirely, getting rid of the toxic tropes so commonly seen in romcom over the last several decades and switching things up a bit.