Cinema Stephanie “Blogette”, Vol. II, No. 6 (Sept.20,2018)
Crazy Rich Asians
(U.S.A., 2018, Warner Bros./Color Force/SK Global; PG 13, 120 min.; Dir., Jon M. Chu)
If the quote attributed to Napoleon Bonaparte at the opening of Crazy Rich Asians”Let China sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world” is true there’s certainly no slumber in sight with the kinetic, colorful, curious and yes, a bit crazy story in what seems to be very a la mode movie of the moment. Get your passport ready for a jet propelled ride!
The movie could be deemed Asian “grown up” version of popular television show “Gossip Girl” with extravagance beyond imagination and wardrobe to match. There has rarely been such a palette of pretty people on screen (and if not gorgeous very funny). If that sounds superficial, it’s appropriate because this new twist on the “caste system” is just that, with an underlying message about courage and conviction, and being true to one’s self is what ultimately matters most.
Setting the tone and musical influence as the film beings is “Money” sung Chinese. An indication of the storyline that what’s in the bank matters enormously, though the account(s) contains more than currency.
Rachel Chu(Constance Wu), professor of economics at NYU using card game of poker as a teaching tool, and and beau Nick Young(Henry Golding) are canoodling over dessert in some hip café when he invites her to go home with him to Singapore for wedding of his closest friend where he’s to be best man. The buzz gets out instagramly (sic) all the way to his elegantly controlled (actually controlling) mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) during her Bible study group with the “aunties” in an Architectural Digest worthy setting. Espousing who espouses “when children are away from home too long, they forget who they are” thus the tension, and judgment, begin.
Prior to their journey “really east” Nick reveals via incisive editing a little about his family to Rachel, including the stunning beauty, with poise to match, the altruistic Astrid(Gemma Chan) among other more “stereotype” cousins. He has withheld that he comes from immense wealth, which is quite a surprise to Rachel who is not so affluent, raised by a single mother who emigrated to the U.S,A, from mainland China and worked hard to provide for her very accomplished and kind daughter. Miss Wu exudes a truly natural quality endowing her character with strength, intelligence and vulnerability. She’s not afraid to admit her shortcomings and fears, yet has fortitude not to give up.
Rachel might be of Chinese descent, however she is (Chinese) American in the eyes of Nick’s friends and more importantly his family, who though Chinese are apparently quasi-royalty of Singapore where all the Asian action takes place. She is mostly perceived by all as an “alien” or an outsider to say the least. This includes the seemingly benign though formidable Ah Ma, aka Grandma (Lisa Lu). Watch out for this sleeping tiger!
The engaged couple Araminta Lee(Sonlya Mizuno) and Chris Pang(Colin Khoo) seem to be a true love match (or are they?). The ceremony and reception are opulent beyond excess with the latter like a scene beyond (The Great) Gatsby. Singapore is like Xanadu in the 21stcentury and renowned for excess including gastronomy. From international open food court, to preparing traditional dumplings and lavish parties, the film is a continual feast for the senses. If you weren’t hungry at the start as the credits roll, you’ll be craving dim sum or your favorite sushi bar!
Pop music with many other recognizable tunes punctuates many scenes especially Chinese version of “Material Girl” as Rachel’s zany college friend Peik Lin Goh(the delightful Awkwafina) and cousin Oliver T’sien(droll Nico Santos) in veritable whirlwind display of glamorous gowns prepare her for the main event in the “stately pleasure dome.” It occurs to this viewer that the cast would be terrific in re-make of Flower Drum Song with a truly intrinsic perspective.
The challenge, if not contest, between tradition and taboos pits Rachel against the real material girls and boys, and you’ll have to see the movie to find out who prevails. Occidentals not depicted, justifiably so because of the intrinsic story, though comprise many of the crew in credit list.
Based on book of same title movie has to be seen (and even read) to understand the ambiguous meaning of Crazy Rich Asians. The concept could be carried on with “Crazy Rich Persians”, “Crazy Rich Indians”, “Crazy Rich Italians” (get the idea?) and so on, because insanity, tradition and taboos, snobbery and prejudice have no racial boundaries; and nouveau and veille riche are endemic in most cultures.
East meets east, old meets new, boy gets girl (or does he?). Kudos to fellow University of Southern California (USC) alumni, director Chu, and to screenwriters (Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim) who have made a popular picture with some genuine heart and soul (there’s a tune that could have been included in the snappy sound track) that’s also a lot of laugh out loud fun.