14th September 2018 (UK)
This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend's family.
Jon M. Chu
Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
Crazy Rich Asians has been getting lots of buzz amongst critics, audiences and news outlets alike since it’s August 2018 release in the USA. This refreshing romantic comedy, based on a book by Kevin Kwan, may have a traditional fairy tale premise of poor girl meets rich prince, however the cultural shift to Singapore promises a unique take on the well worn traditional rom-com. But is this change enough to carry a 2 hour glitz romp with Asia’s business elite, or does it sink beneath the weight of it’s own indulgence?
Yes and no is the answer. Crazy Rich Asians is an enjoyable time. It works well as a date movie, or to cuddle up to your other half on a cold autumn evening. It’s giddy and soppy, heart-warming and dramatic. There are moments to make you grin from ear to ear, and enough solid comedy, that whilst not laugh out loud, keep the film lightly charming. It never feels like it’s trying too hard.
The simple story centres on Rachel (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American economics professor who travels to Singapore for the first time with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding), to attend his best friends wedding. But Rachel is unaware that her potential eventual in-laws are in fact the wealthiest family on the island, and is completely unprepared for the expectations now forced upon her.
It’s a shame then, that Crazy Rich Asians’ laborious length really does hinder the overall experience. Romantic comedies, similar to horror films, often work best at that sweet 90 minute spot. There are always exceptions to be sure, but the likes of When Harry Met Sally, Annie Hall, Sleepless in Seattle, Sixteen Candles, Say Anything and 500 Days of Summer (which don’t exceed over 100 minutes) do attest that there’s often a very successful formula in a shorter run-time. By hitting the 120 minute mark, Crazy Rich Asians is noticeably too long and unfortunately this is one reason why it cannot be considered in the same leagues as the aforementioned classics.
The set up works as we are first introduced to the likeable but too-safe-for-my-liking couple, and the “fish out of water” comedy rounds off an entertaining first act. But once the film bites into the meat of the story, problems arise. We start spending too much time with other members of the extensive Singaporean royal family, losing focus on the core relationship in the film. Unnecessary plot lines are developed that detract from the more interesting and serious themes of family duty, following cultural traditions, and the clash between the matriarchal Mrs Young (Michelle Yeoh) and Rachel. This creates a second and third act that feel unbalanced: almost confused whether it wants to be an ensemble piece or to create a new winning couple to rival Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan; in the end, it fails to be neither.
You may have heard much praise for the diverse nature of this film. After all, an all Asian cast to be found in a major Hollywood release is certainly a unfair rarity. Crazy Rich Asians is a breath of fresh air in terms of viewpoint and representation, and it should be applauded as so, but contrary to popular belief, this is not the first majority East-Asian led film since 1993’s Joy Luck Club as many are suggesting.
Clint Eastwood’s haunting war film Letters from Iwo Jima from 2006 depicts the Japanese side of one of the Pacific’s bloodiest battles with care and respect. The Oscar-winning Memoirs of a Geisha, a Hollywood film costing $85 million, follows an all Asian cast in a period setting. These various news outlets seem to have even forgotten Disney’s Mulan too, which is unarguably a significant Western release featuring a mainly Asian cast. Even just a few weeks ago in the UK, tense social media thriller Searching was released with a majority Asian cast. This is not to take away from Crazy Rich Asians achievements regarding diversity and under-represented viewpoints, but a watershed moment it is not; to act like so is to project false praise upon the film.
Technically however, Crazy Rich Asians is rather delightful. It’s cinematography and production design is a feast for the eyes. Singapore, it’s food and aspects of the culture there are well captured and do add something tangible to a film so devoted to impossible wealth. The music is just as vibrant as the images projected on screen, which positively extenuates every diamond ring and super car with glee.
It’s a well designed, well made package that certainly doesn’t fall short unlike it’s wobbly story.
Strong first act
Funny and heartwarming moments
Easily 25 minutes too long
Loses focus on central characters
Likeable but safe leads.