Crazy Rich Asians (PG13)
Starring Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh
Directed by Jon M Chu
The long-awaited adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling book Crazy Rich Asians finally arrives in cinemas this week. The Jon M Chu-helmed rom-com stars Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu as Rachel Wu, a Chinese-American professor who doesn’t know that her hunky boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), is actually the scion of a property empire in Singapore. (Girl, haven’t you heard of Google?). But Nick’s protective mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, classy and regal), thinks Rachel, who hails from a humble background, isn’t money enough for him. (Yes, it’s a familiar story — seen in, like, a 1,001 Hongkong drama serials.) The movie opened No.1 in the US to rave reviews. How will it go down with audiences here? As a Chinese Singaporean and someone hasn’t read the source material, my reaction isn’t as enthusiastic as the American reviewers; it’s lukewarm at best. At least, it’s no Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders.
It’s about time Hollywood made a major studio movie with an all-Asian cast; the last one was 2005’s Memoirs of a Geisha, and before that, 1993’s The Joy Luck Club. Too few and far between, indeed. While Crazy Rich Asians has been praised for championing diversity, it’s also received flak for under-representing Asians and misrepresenting Singapore. Let’s face it, the story is really about a Chinese family, and a super-wealthy one at that. By overselling the “all-Asian” rallying cry, they’re also perpetuating the notion that Asians are a monolithic cultural identity group, and doing so, they raise questions about race and representation and how Hollywood perceives these thorny issues. Who knew a fluffy rom-com can be this divisive. Man, the post-movie supper discussion should be exciting.
Stand up for Singapore!
Like the recent Trump-Kim Summit, Crazy Rich Asians is another publicity coup for us. We should be grateful that the movie was actually shot here (and in Malaysia) when the producers could’ve easily replicated local landmarks digitally (see Independence Day: Resurgence) or in some cavernous studio in Vancouver (see the Hongkong-set Skyscraper). STB should be pleased with how stunningly gorgeous CHIJMES is transformed for the “$40 million wedding”’, while a line about “Michelin-starred hawker food” is a bit on the nose. Elsewhere, the soundtrack has a few awkward ‘ching-chong’ moments that make you feel like you’re watching a movie set in Hongkong. Oh well, it’s a movie, not a documentary, so let’s take it with a pinch of salt. Or a sachet.
For local audiences, it’s a chance to catch their favourite stars on the big screen. Blink and you’ll miss Nat Ho. Look, it’s Fiona Xie over there! And there’s Fiona Xie, again! Of all the homegrown actors featured, Pierre Png and Tan Kheng Hua stand out with meatier parts; the former as Gemma Chan’s husband, and the latter as Wu’s mother. The Phua Chu Kang alums have more to do than Selena Tan, Amy Cheng and Janice Koh, who play members of the Youngs’ sycophantic inner circle. But the good news is, they’re now part of what director Chu calls “the deepest database of Asian actors that speak English in the world.” So, if any other Hollywood producers want to cast actors here, that’s a good place to start. That said, we need to get Pierre to guest on Hawaii Five-O, pronto! Don’t waste those abs!
It’s not that crazy!
If you look past the racial make-up and Singaporean-ness (or lack thereof) of the movie, what you’re left with is a by-the-numbers rom-com. Golding, in his acting debut, is affable but a little bland, and shares with very little chemistry with Wu, who has trouble shaking off her tiger mum persona from Fresh Off the Boat. I was hoping for something bittersweet and intimate, along the lines of The Big Sick, the interracial dramedy starring Kumail Nanjiani and Zoe Kazan. But the movie is more interested in showing off the material excess, which is fun up to a certain point before you’re numbed by it. Rapper Awkwafina, so criminally underused in Ocean’s Eight, is adorkable as Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s BFF, one of the few characters who isn’t annoying and obnoxious. She’s the closest thing the movie has to a token blonde (and she's blonde). Maybe she should get her own spin-off. (**1/2)
Photo: Warner Bros