It's been well over 20 years since a mainstream American-produced film featured an entirely Asian cast (the last one was The Joy Luck Club in 1993, by the way, but Asians still remain the least-represented ethnicity in movies)—but with the release of the explosively popular Crazy Rich Asians from Now You See Me 2 director John M Chu, this alarming issue may change. Or at least be addressed better by Hollywood? Fingers crossed.
Representation matters—even if the underlying plot of the Kevin Kwan book-turned-movie follows a relatively formulaic plotline. Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat) is Rachel Chu, a young NYU econ professor who has fallen for the uber-charming Nick Young, heir to bazillions of family dollars, but who hasn't told Rachel that he's rich despite their year-long relationship—an interesting factoid she only discovers once the pair heads to Nick's homeland of Singapore for a wedding. A seriously fancy-ass wedding.
Cue mild drama (she forgives him for not mentioning the rich thing pretty quickly) and jokes about how things sure are different over there.
Wu asserts her leading-lady position brilliantly, a comedic actor with a knack for sublime timing and who has proven her chops on television for years. Here she portrays a cool and up-for-anything type who bravely fields Young family drama from Nick's mother (the talented and graceful Michelle Yeoh of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame), vindictive, jealous exes and petty rich types; get this woman in more projects immediately, someone.
Elsewhere, B-plot elements feel shoehorned in at best, particularly the crumbling marriage of Nick's sister Astrid (Gemma Chan) and a wildly pointless role portrayed by Silicon Valley's Jimmy O Yang. Henry Golding (who you probably don't know yet) is serviceable as the handsome and apparently magnetic Nick (he hangs out at the YMCA and borrows Rachel's Netflix password so, like, he's not one of those rich people). As is the case with most characters, we get a primer in his deal within the film's early minutes, though nobody outside of Rachel really develops beyond their baseball card stats. Community vet Ken Jeong is, as almost always, underused, even if his daughter (played by rapper Akwafina) does provide some of the most organically funny moments of the film. Nico Santos (of NBC's Superstore) feels misused as well, a very funny actor who gets only a few lines that mostly just reaffirm that his character is gay.
But it's fun to see sweeping aerial shots of Singapore, especially when used in conjunction with the over-the-top lifestyle of the Young family. Fireworks happen, y'all.
And then eventually we're fed a rom-com trope about Rachel and Nick's undying love having nothing to do with money or status or making overbearing family members happy. The sorta-kinda-twist, however, lies in the stark reality of drastically differing social stations. This feels perhaps more true-to-life than plenty of the genre's other examples, but still—wouldn't you know it—love conquers all.
Thank goodness, then, for the fantastic music found throughout Crazy Rich Asians that generally comes in the form of hit American songs covered in Chinese. This really sets a tone that makes non-Asian viewers feel welcome but still out of our element, a seemingly small touch in a film that is definitely aiming for fun rather than high art. Hopefully, though, it won't be another two decades before Asian filmmakers and actors get another shot at the big screen. Frankly, it shouldn't have to be a novelty—and if Hollywood's concern is that (white) audiences won't get it, let this be a lesson to them: If you make it, we will come.
+Very pretty; Constance Wu is the best
-Checks off all the staid rom-com boxes
Crazy Rich Asians
Directed by Chu
With Wu, Golding and Yeoh
Violet Crown, Regal, PG-13, 120 min.