The preview above gives the general dimensions of this romantic comedy with an Asian cast and setting. What it does not show is how much fun the movie is.
The setup is this: A Chinese-American economics professor, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), is invited by her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Goldman), to join him on a trip to Singapore, where she can meet his family and he is to be the best man at his friend’s wedding.
Along the way, Rachel gets inklings that Nick’s net worth is somewhat greater than she had assumed, given his job as a history professor.
When they get to Singapore, the lid comes off. Rachel visits her lively college BFF, Go Peik Lin (humorist Awkwafina), who lives in a fancy family house decorated like Versailles but who is gobsmacked to learn that Rachel’s boyfriend is the Nick Young, whose family, she says is “not just posh and snobby, but snoshy.”
As Rachel meets Nick’s relatives and friends, viewers are treated to the glitzy side of Singapore. Characters spend lavishly on travel, jewelry and fashion. There are pre-wedding bachelorette and stag events that make American versions look subdued. There are many sweeping camera shots of the bright lights of Singapore at night. (Seems clear the country is eager for its star turn here.)
The essential tension of the plot is whether April and Nick will marry. His severe and duty-obsessed mother, (Michelle Yeoh), is adamant that she does not want a Chinese American daughter-in-law. This conflict is handled credibly by all the actors and carries the story along.
But back to the fun. The director, Jon M. Chu, seems to have been given a free hand to adapt a popular novel of the same name. He and his script writers stripped the story to the basics and loaded it up with humor. Peik Lin’s parents and siblings are delightful fun, as are Nick’s two ne’er-do-well cousins. Further laughs also are woven into many scenes — as when we see what Peik Lin carries in her car trunk and when hilarious distractions arise during Rachel and Nick’s pivotal scene toward the end of the movie. All well done.
The effect is a sincere story wrapped in a wacky package, enjoyable to watch and with plenty of silliness (and, yes, subthemes that say that money isn’t everything.)
Warner Bros. outbid Netflix to make this film and is promoting the heck out of it. There have been very well-received preview showings in scattered secondary markets, and it is opening this Wednesday — not Thursday or Friday — in anticipation of a big, big weekend at the box office.
This movie seems to matter a great deal to Asian professionals in the film industry. The last Asian-American film story was “The Joy Luck Club,” a 1993 film about Chinese mothers and daughters; Disney’s “Mulan,” five years later, also was about Asian themes.
The difference here is that “Crazy Rich Asians” is a traditional story about family squabbles that happens to have a Chinese cast; Capulet v. Montague conflicts over children’s love interests are common across all cultures, after all.
If CRA finds a big market, as the glossy “Empire” television series has, maybe studios will be willing to finance traditional stories staged in different communities. About time, I’d say.
Before I saw the film, I started reading the book that was the source material. I don’t say this often, but here goes: The movie is better.