Monday, September 3, 2018

“CRAZY RICH ASIANS”: Great Story, Great Acting, and Great Timing

I actually found myself puzzling over how best to make an introduction for this review of Warner Bros. and Color Force’s “Crazy Rich Asians”, directed by Jon M. Chu. On one hand I thought of making comparisons between the release of this film and that of 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club”. Then I considered talking about my recent trip to the country that is the primary setting of this movie, one I have visited several times before. How its cinematography elicited fresh nostalgia in me! Then I realize I already did both, so let us just get to the discussion.
We start with Rachel Chu (portrayed by Constance Wu), Chinese-American NYU Professor of Economics and specialist in Game Theory, who seems to like teaching her students with demonstrations on games of chance. One day her fellow NYU teacher and steady boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) asks her to accompany him back to his home country of Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, plus meet his family. Sounds simple enough, and Rachel kind of gets the meet-the-parents thing due to her cultural background. But she has no idea what she is getting into when Nick switches their tickets to first class.
He can do that in a snap because he is actually part of the richest family of land developers in Singapore. Rachel seems pretty tough from her intro scene where she bluffs her student in a poker game to fold his weak hand while she has no combinations at all. But even she is overwhelmed by Nick’s circle of family and friends in Singapore, the titular “Crazy Rich” Asians. Worse, her presence is known to them in advance thanks to their Illuminati-like international gossip network; they think Rachel is a gold-digger, enough for Nick’s mother (Michelle Yeoh) to dislike her.
Rachel is not exactly without a support group of her own. There is her old university best friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her quirky new-money family; Nick’s buddy Colin (Chris Pang) and his fiancée Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) are sympathetic; so too is Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and later his grandmother Su Yi (veteran actress Lisa Lu). But Rachel’s presence is riling up financial powers belonging to potentially vindictive minds. Eleanor Young could buy hotels on a whim, and one of Nick’s other childhood friends can convert a cargo ship into a no-rules and anything-goes party barge on international waters.
Now we’ll go over the performances. Viewers of international TV fare would recognize Constance Wu from ABC sitcom “Fresh off the Boat”, and she definitely nails a great portrayal of a Chinese-American who is secure in herself, but is still realistically bowled over by the unexpected. Her co-lead Henry Golding is primarily known as a TV host, particularly in BBC’s “The Travel Show”, but he has enough acting experience in Malaysian cinema to know his way around a Hollywood production. Michelle Yeoh is in prime form as Nick’s domineering mother and the film’s arguable big bad. Rapper Awkwafina is hilarious as Rachel’s old friend and closest ally of wealth in Singapore; while Gemma Chan steals her scenes with her sophisticated and elegant, yet human, role of Nick’s cousin Astrid, who is prominent in a secondary story arc of her own.
By now it is well known that despite the strong and diverse role choices for the movie, it still is getting flak from various sources. Some criticize the casting of Japanese-Argentinian Sonoya Mizuno and British-Malaysian Golding as Singaporeans, while on another front there are those who decry that only Chinese-Singaporean characters are evident while downplaying the country’s other ethnicities. I say the detractors are making Mount Everests out of molehills with their expectations. The actors are magnificent; focus on that.
Onto a subject I enjoy discussing more, director Jon M. Chu and his crew has outdone themselves in capturing the awe-inspiring vistas of Singapore. This is especially relevant to me, who has been to that island nation in the past; the sweeping shots of famous landmarks were a dose of déjà vu for me, seeing as the characters seem to always be inside locations like the Gardens by the Bay or Marina Bay Sands, or have these in the background.
I also loved how the film soundtrack was a mix of Chinese oldies like “Tian Mi Mi” and contemporary covers of famous Western pop songs. A shout-out goes also for the cameo appearance of Philippine Actress and MultiMedia Queen Kris Aquino in her brief role as a professorial Malayan Princess who is a guest at the ostentatious wedding. She was stunning in a yellow gown designed by Michael Cinco!
What else is there left to say? Ah, the call-back comparison to “The Joy Luck Club”. “Crazy Rich Asians” is that for the present generation, a Hollywood film of a predominant ethnicity somewhat similar to “Black Panther” earlier this year. I highly recommend you watch.
Image courtesy of BBC


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