This filming of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel by director John M. Chu features glitzy detail, pleasing comedy and amiably broad performances propping up a very familiar plot line with a number of credibility gaps and a clunky wrap-up.
It’s an important film regardless, as Crazy Rich Asians is the first major Hollywood movie with an exclusively Asian main cast since The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago.
Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is an economics professor at New York University, and she’s invited by her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding in his first film), another professor, to accompany him home to Singapore for the wedding of his bestie Colin (Chris Pang).
Rachel agrees and suddenly realises that Nick’s family are a fantastically rich bunch of hoteliers, a little fact that couldn’t possibly have escaped her attention after a year’s worth of dating, as Nick is a lusted-after celeb whose every move is intensely scrutinised on social media. But her ignorance of this is required to make the narrative work, so she therefore comes across as more than a bit of a fool.
The pair arrives in Singapore and gets swept up in lots of expensive celebrations, many of which involve Rachel being treated quite horribly by many jealous women. You’d forgive her if she gave up the prospect of marrying into huge money and retreated back to NY in tears. Yet she sticks around, and is soon locked in head-butting combat with Nick’s sour Mum Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who also behaves appallingly – and a little illogically.
The Malaysian Yeoh, a former sort-of-Bond-girl and popular star of hits like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is strong here, but the character is one-dimensional and allowed no redeeming humour or heart. She comes across as a cruel, calculating snob who particularly despises Rachel because she’s Chinese-American (which truly stings as Eleanor been the victim of nasty racial discrimination herself).
Watching Wu’s Rachel battling with her is probably the highlight of the picture, even if you can guess how this is all going to end up. Golding is outshone by these two women and a small army of comic relief, especially Awkwafina as Rachel’s snarky old pal Peik Lin Goh and Ken Jeong (the best-known player here after the Hangover movies and TV’s Community) as her hammy Dad.
Nevertheless a sequel is guaranteed, so there’s really little point in complaining about the niggling problems with this audience-pleaser. Perhaps you should just settle back and enjoy the cool gags and sheer wish-fulfillment fantasy, and remember the take-home moral message: yes, money CAN buy you happiness.
Rated PG. Crazy Rich Asians is in cinemas now.