Finally Some Long Overdue Representation: “Crazy Rich Asians” Review

Based on Kevin Kwan’s trilogy of books, “Crazy Rich Asians” is the first movie with an all Asian cast AND an Asian-American woman lead in 25 years. Now sit and reflect on that for a minute. It’s actually baffling that Hollywood is still not willing to bet on movies with diverse casts: the excuse is usually based on money; on the fear that movies like that won’t make profit. Well, they can retire that argument now, cause this movie has made enough money to be the highest grossing romantic comedy of the decade.

* Hi! Laura here! This little paragraph is going to be written by me exclusively for a reason that I'm about to explain. My family is Japanese; therefore, I feel deeply connected to this movie because of the Asian representation. Whist growing up, I didn't see many successful Asian actors on the media, and when I did see them, their bodies were sexualized and they were portrayed on a very stereotypical way, usually smart and quiet characters. When I read about this movie, that it had a cast that is all Asian, about them trying to accurately represent Asians and the culture, I got very excited to watch it. And, trust me, it didn't let me down. Now back to two people writing! *

The story follows Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics and game theory professor at NYU, on her journey of flying to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), for his best friend’s wedding. There she’ll be meeting his family for the first time, but there’s a catch: they’re rich. Like, crazy rich. So Rachel faces a few challenges, like trying to impress both his mother and his peers and find her Chinese roots deep inside, whist still staying true to herself. Nick is considered the "Asian bachelor" who everyone knows who he and his family is and everyone wants to be with him, but Rachel was one of the only people he has ever met that didn't know who his family was prior to traveling to his hometown in Singapore, or, as Nick describes it, very far east. Rachel has absolutely no idea what she’s in for when she’s with her mother, Kerry Chu (Tan Kheng Hua), trying to figure out what she should wear to meet her boyfriend’s family. Nick's mother, Nick and Rachel / Image Source: IMDb

As the movie moves to Singapore, opulence is the rule. Think insane parties, jewelry worth millions of dollars, fast cars and huge fancy mansions. Jon M. Chu’s direction spares no effort to make sure to show us how over-the-top that world of wealth is. Remember, these people are so rich, they don’t have to worry about the same things we usually worry about. It’s almost something out of The Great Gatsby - everything shines, the parties are gigantic and there are always fireworks, cause why not? Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno) and Colin’s (Chris Pang) wedding, for example, is absolutely gorgeous and ridiculous at the same time. Chu actually explains Rachel’s first contact with Nick’s world in this video.

There, Rachel, seen with suspicion by mostly everyone, must face the wolves, quite literally. Although Nick’s friends and cousins seem like a threat initially in their unwillingness to accept Rachel as one of their own, it is Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s intimidating mother, who presents herself as the biggest challenge for our protagonist, who must prove herself as being good enough for her son and worthy of respect, which involves perhaps the most intense match of Mahjong in the history of cinema. The story almost looks like a Jane Austen novel, which actually inspired Astrid’s (Gemma Chan) background story of a previous romance in the book (and movie, if you stick around after the credits).

Rachel and Astrid / Image Source: IMDb

The acting is definitely the highlight of the movie. Constance Wu (from Fresh Off The Boat) displays her talent for both comedy and drama, making you fall in love with her character and cheer for her. Awkwafina (who recently starred the reboot Ocean's 8) plays one of the funniest and most honest characters, Peik Lin, Rachel’s old college roommate, who helps Rachel navigate the luxury world of Singapore’s rich and famous. Michelle Yeoh (most recently from Star Trek: Discovery, but also the classic Memoirs of a Geisha), plays an imposing elegant Eleanor, a woman that can make you crumble with one look.

Rachel and her friend Peik Lin / Image Source: IMDb

Ken Jeong (famous comedian who previously starred on Community) plays Peik Lin’s dad who is very inappropriate in a funny way. Henry Golding (from A Simple Favor) is 100% a gentleman as lovestruck Nick. And finally, but not least, Gemma Chan (from TV show Humans and oncoming movie, Captain Marvel) gives a chic aura and gracefulness to Astrid. Other names are worth mentioning, like Sonoya Mizuno (Araminta Lee), Chris Pang (Colin Khoo), Nico Santos (Oliver T’sien) and Kheng Hua Tan (Kerry Chu). Here’s the cast having some fun.

Rachel and Peik Lin's family / Image Source: IMDb

This movie talks about how family and heritage are still important matters in the eyes of some traditional people all over the world, and in this case, Singapore. One of the most controversial quotes - we think - was said by Eleanor Young during a conversation with Rachel: Nick’s mother doesn’t believe that her son should be dating an American woman, having an Asian background or not, because “all Americans think about is their own happiness”. According to Eleanor, the right thing to do is to choose family tradition and not follow your own passions. The movie was made with the Asian culture (Chinese culture, more specifically) in mind, as shown in this piece, which explains some of the cultural references used in the movie.

The interaction shows how different cultures value different things and explains why Rachel sticks out by representing the clash of occidental and oriental beliefs. It seemed like one of the goals for this movie was to show the audience both points of view, the traditional and the more open-minded, and they did it graciously. As Peik Lin said, the Young Family has been rich and powerful ever since Singapore had nothing on it, Nick’s Ah Ma (grandmother) reigns over every member of the family, and the rules she established are to be followed by them. Whist most of Nick's family tries to follow the "rules" implied by millions of years of tradition, some of the members try to get away from the strictness and characters outside the family - including Rachel and her mom - didn't have any rules of the type to follow.

Rachel at the wedding / Image Source: IMDb

Another thing that is quite outstanding about this movie is the music: Jon M. Chu, director, and Gabe Hilfer, music supervisor, looked for a multilingual soundtrack and made a compilation of classic Chinese love songs and covers of popular English songs sung by Asian performers. Only three songs were recorded in English, the other eleven were reworked with Chinese lyrics. The entire soundtrack was thought to underline Rachel’s journey during the movie, from New York with her mom, boyfriend and job, to Singapore with Nick’s family and high society standards. During an interview with Quartz, the director said: “I wanted to take hit American songs and make them Chinese, to give audiences a sense of how we feel as Asian Americans. That crazy blend of identities and cultures that makes up who we are. It felt to me like a critical part of what we were trying to do.”

Crazy Rich Asians is a fun movie where love really does defy all odds (and mothers, snob people, society, etc). You spend the whole time cheering for Rachel and Nick and hoping she’ll make it in the somewhat inhospitable and closed off environment of the wealthiest family of Singapore. Here’s the trailer and please, no matter what, stay for the credits, you’ll be in for a surprise!