Review: Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)
Dir: Jon M. Chu

I can’t begin to express quite how much I disliked the first trailer I saw for this film when it appeared on my social media feed. It looked like straight-to-video or streaming filler, and I had absolutely no intention of seeing it and assumed that beyond seeing the trailer pop up online a few times I’d hear nothing more of it. I got that wrong!

New York college lecturer Rachel (Constance Wu) travels to Singapore for a wedding with her super-wealthy hotel heir boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding, ‘A Simple Favour’ and ‘Last Christmas’) and faces the daunting prospect of meeting his family, including matriarch Elanor (Michelle Yeoh). 

Despite my initial aversion, I was prompted and eventually convinced to go see this by the many overwhelmingly positive reviews, including many from the Asian-American community. I even heard of people arranging mass or private screenings for their friends and family, often praising the tone of the film as surprisingly enjoyable. I’m not of Asian culture of descent and so can’t really comment with any authority on how accurately or sensitively it portrays the realities of being from that community, but from what I heard in those reviews by others, it seems to have touched on things that are really of concern to people of that community, with many speaking about how it resonated with them in a way that’s overwhelmingly positive. So even if a wider audience can’t fully appreciate all the issues and references, it’s great that many did. 

I believe some characters are maybe playing on stereotypes that are familiar within the culture, rather than negative ones from elsewhere. Characterisations are clearly taking the most extreme examples of these ideas, some of which I got the impression it wasn’t trying to dispel, fully steering into acknowledging that there’s perhaps some basis for them. This allows the film to write these ‘crazy’ characters and have fun with them. Even the title alone tells you that’s part of the appeal of the story, you can read it many ways depending on where you put emphasis or punctuation, all of which you’ll find catered for in some way.  

The friend who saw it with me didn’t enjoy it very much at all, she didn’t think either the characters or story were particularly believable. I don’t get her criticism, to me it’s nothing narratively that’s anything out of the norm for a romantic movie and while many characters are larger-than-life they aren’t substantially out of the realms of possibility. I think we see equally lavish lifestyles from YouTubers and Instagram influencers on a regular basis, so to think that the super-rich may at times live their lives like this is entirely believable. Notably, this film features one of the most beautiful wedding scenes I have ever seen on screen, a deliberately lavish display of decadence that was as true to the movie’s title as it was captivating. While I’m sure it’s not the type of thing you’d expect at most Asian weddings, it’s entirely believable that someone with extraordinary wealth might plan a wedding this impressive.

Practically jumping off the screen from the moment she’s introduced is Awkwafina, her character is the all the right kinds of ‘crazy’ referenced in the title. She’s scene-stealing from her first moment, and when she was in full flow I found myself enjoying the film a whole load more. It’s no surprise she’s found herself cast in many things since this, and while the performances were all solid, hers made the most lasting impression on me and is what I remember now two years later.  

Part of a trilogy of books, there’s plenty in place upon which to build a franchise which was clearly the hope and after such good Box Office returns now the intention. The next two films are apparently being filmed back-to-back (though there seems to be a little delay), which shows just how much confidence they have that the massive success wasn’t just a fluke. I don’t quite know where they’ll call time on it though, this does feel a little like one of those properties that a studio will happily flog the life out of as long as they can keep cutting the production budget and stars back to a bare minimum while still having a willing audience there to give moderate returns. So I wonder if they will keep it going well beyond the adapted trilogy. Whether this is the next ‘Fast and Furious’ or ‘American Pie’ remains to be seen, though I’d predict it will fall somewhere between the two.

Interestingly, all the stars of the film were at the Oscars, despite it not being nominated for a single award. It was hard to miss, they got red carpet interviews that suggested they were attending due to how immensely popular it was, maybe it’s also an indicator that there were some who thought it might even get some top tier awards attention, which it did not. 

Director Jon M. Chu’s next film is a lavish big-screen adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical ‘In The Heights’, something I was particularly looking forward to going to see in the cinema this year with an audience. Sadly though it’ll have to wait until mid-2021 as it was one of the first films to delay the release by a full year in response to the pandemic, and with it looking like it’ll be going straight to HBO Max in the states it’s uncertain what kind of theatrical release it’ll be getting elsewhere. The cinematic production landscape has been so disrupted this year that there’s no firm news on the sequels, and all the cast have been busy with other things, so scheduling everyone again must be a monumental challenge, one that could derail a sequel completely. I think another issue may also be at play. Warner Bros were selected for distribution because they would do so theatrically and worldwide, but that’s no longer their preference, so I wonder if contractual discussions are ongoing to clarify intentions for further films before production is put into gear.

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ won a few awards at Critics societies and Guilds and many more nominations, including for two Golden Globes which it didn’t win. Box Office returns were beyond expectations in the US but it failed in Asia, which is becoming an increasingly important market for films. I fear this may be partly the reason for the delay in getting the sequels, there’s less reason to rush at the moment if it’s only heading for streaming, and many of the cast have gone on to bigger successes, making their fees considerably higher. It’ll probably still happen, and I am sure it will be successful, but I don’t expect to see it until at least 2022.

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