Skip to main content

Review: Love is more important than money, Crazy Rich Asians tells us – but way too blandly

Title: Crazy Rich Asians

Directed by: Jon M. Chu

Written by: Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim

Story continues below advertisement

Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh

Classification: PG, 120 minutes

rating

Once upon a time, all it took to make a blockbuster romantic comedy were two bankable leads and one clever impediment to their union – a mistaken identity, say, or the few thousand miles between Seattle and Baltimore.

Today, as Hollywood places all its bets on superhero action, it seems a producer must have a gimmick bigger than the Empire State Building to get a studio to invest in a rom-com. A closet full of whips and chains might do it – or maybe the biggest real-estate fortune in Asia.

Crazy Rich Asians: I laughed, I cried, I saw myself reflected on-screen

50 Shades of Grey had the billionaire businessman Christian Grey and his secret sexual tastes. In Crazy Rich Asians, it’s just the fabulous wealth that’s in the closet. Taking its melodramatic story from the bestselling novel by Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians follows Chinese-American economics prof Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she travels from New York to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) for a family wedding. There she discovers that her laid-back lover is actually the heir to a massive development empire and the most eligible bachelor on the island.

Left to right, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu in Crazy, Rich Asians.

Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros. Pictures

Expecting a routinely stressful trip to meet the folks, Rachel instead finds herself battling the envious gossip and fanciful machinations of Nick’s outrageous friends and family members. In particular, she has to survive the plotting of his powerful mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) who is determined that this American nobody is not going to walk off with her prince, and the family’s future CEO. If 50 Shades was a retelling of Beauty and the Beast, then Rachel is Cinderella – as one of the movie’s many obnoxious secondary characters keeps telling her.

Alongside the fairy-tale romance, there is a social struggle here between the American pursuit of individual happiness and the Chinese ideal of sacrifice for family. Unfortunately, that’s a string on which director Jon M. Chu creates so little tension that we never doubt Rachel and Nick’s true love will beat out Eleanor’s entrenched belief in endogamy. Despite Yeoh’s chilling hauteur as the intimidating Eleanor – she is one of the few villains in the piece not overplaying the role – you know that she’s going to lose because what she really cares about is class more than family.

Story continues below advertisement

The moment where Rachel finally bests this snobby opponent feels both anti-climactic and belated. Our heroine had been set up as a much spunkier character than this: An opening scene depicted her as a star academic of cheerful sang froid winning a hand of poker to prove a point about economic behaviour. Still, confronted by the horrible Singapore relatives, Wu does manage to suggest affability, intelligence and backbone in a pleasant lead performance, whereas Golding’s insipid Nick spends the entire movie looking only mildly happy – or vaguely concerned. It’s not hard to believe this muffled character is very, very rich because he seems quite cut off from anything hard, sharp or deep.

And so we absentmindedly lap up Nick and Rachel’s bland romance – yes, of course, love is far more important than money – along with the real brew that Crazy Rich Asians is offering: The spectacle of extreme wealth. The film is a voyeuristic smorgasbord, introducing us to people who will spend $1-million on a pair of earrings, decorate their entire houses in gold and hold bachelor parties on private islands.

Generously you might say Crazy Rich Asians is a satire of Chinese family values and the social strata of the overseas Chinese – as well as a major spoof of the ornate decorative tastes of the moneyed class – but the larger society is missing from the picture. There are only a handful of scenes, as Nick and Rachel dine on street food or when Rachel lures Eleanor to a mah-jongg parlour, that give any sense Singapore is a real place rather than a fantasy land.

And that fantasy land can be an oddly uncomfortable location: The comic Awkwafina joyfully contributes her manic energy to the role of Peik Lin, Rachel’s local friend and ally, but the mocking of Peik Lin’s family, with their crass manners and their ostentatious house, is more ugly than funny.

As the obscenities of wealth accumulate while a large cast of Asian and Eurasian actors render their many silly characters, the source of the laughter becomes troubling.

Clearly, some Asian audiences may experience this film (produced by a largely Asian and Asian-American creative team) differently. A white viewer such as myself witnessing this overblown display may find themselves in that awkward territory where somebody else’s ethnic comedy leaves them feeling complicit in racial prejudice.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter