After years of waiting on Hollywood to produce a movie with an all-Asian cast and months of hype when it was filmed here, the verdict for Crazy Rich Asians is finally out, and it’s apparently very, very good.
The film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s page-turner of a novel saw its big premiere in Los Angeles on Wednesday, where its cast of Asian-Americans and Asian Asians (including the actual Singaporeans in the movie) walked down the red carpet.
Of course, the glitz and glamor were on parade — the film’s plot revolves around a Chinese-American professor who’s swept away into the world of the disgustingly rich via her Singaporean boyfriend, whose family is the wealthiest in the Southeast Asian city-state. Crazy Rich Asians is supposed to be groundbreaking — it’ll be the first Hollywood flick featuring a full ensemble cast of (East) Asians; it’s a film that has Singapore as its main setting (even though a lot of the scenes were filmed in Malaysia); it’s a major blockbuster that’ll be (kinda) relatable to those of Asian descent everywhere.
We say kinda relatable because the reactions from the movie’s trailer haven’t been all rah-rah. While we have our own prejudgements about the movie (especially about the authentic representation of Singapore), we’ll point you to this excellent piece by Kirsten Han on why the movie is not really a win for diverse representation.
Now that movie’s launching this weekend (though Singapore will only get it on Aug 22), reviewers have been gushing about Crazy Rich Asians — so much so that it’s currently sporting 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. The general sentiment: The movie’s a really fun rom-com that delivers both a satisfying story and Asian representation, though it’s not without flaws. Here’s a roundup of reviews so far that shed a little more light on the quality of Crazy Rich Asians and how Singapore is epitomized in the flick.
“Crazy Rich Asians is novel for being an American studio movie that shows us a different horror of excess. But it’s still excess, and the movie’s wan barbs are not enough to counter all the celebration. The film gives you the odd opportunity to feel swoony and gross at the same time, carried away by the lavishness while also knowing it’s wrong.
Still, plenty of white Americans have been able to enjoy all that stuff guilt-free on film for a century—so why shouldn’t some other people get to join the orgy? There’s a sense of reclamation, or maybe it’s assertion, to Crazy Rich Asians, adamantly illustrating Singapore’s place in the oligarchic narrative of the world. (We even get a little history and geography lesson in the film, delivered by the elastic and ever-welcome Awkwafina.) There’s power in that, in reflecting that heritage (and current reality) onscreen to audiences who recognize it, as well as to those learning it for the first time.”
“The film is less about their romance and more about the breadth of experience between old money in the old country and those who’ve scraped by for a piece of the American dream and been forever changed by it. The stakes of Rachel and Nick weathering the Crazy Rich storm and ending up together is more about reconciling those experiences than about True Love.
Crazy Rich Asians is packed with oversize characters (and one too many pointless side plots), but it’s really a love triangle about moms. Once that’s made all too clear, it’s hard to get too excited about another opulent shindig, but (director Jon M. Chu) sends us out with one anyway, just making sure that we get several glasses of bubbly to wash down all that immigrant talk.”
“Chu’s film is smartly organized around three main events during Rachel and Nick’s Singapore trip: a luxurious dinner party at Nick’s grandmother’s estate, a garish pair of pre-wedding bach parties, and the wedding itself — not just the nuptials of some friend, but Singapore’s event of the decade. Such lavish settings allow Chu and company to pile on the opulent touches, from sumptuous costumes to palatial settings to even a shipping barge retrofitted into a nightmarish party vessel. The film wears its culture and heritage with ease — for instance, characters switch between English, Chinese, and Malay slang — the kind of stuff Hollywood so rarely brings to big-budget studio features.”
“In a better world, Crazy Rich Asians wouldn’t have to prove or represent anything but itself. But here we are. That pressure may at least partly explain the script’s anxious, eager-to-please quality, which feels both touchingly awkward and wholly appropriate to the giddy aspirational fairy tale it’s selling.
It’s silly to think that any one picture could ever stand in for a place, a subject, a realm of experience as vast and intricate as the Asian continent and its countless diasporas. But like all pioneering efforts, and like any movie about the pleasures of the aristocracy, Crazy Rich Asians will inevitably be criticized for what it isn’t and never attempted to be.”
“It’s no secret that there’s a lot riding on this movie, which seems to have anticipated the call for wider representation in Hollywood, but comes with the added pressure that one bomb is all it takes for skittish development executives to nix future projects featuring nearly all-Asian casts. Don’t worry: Crazy Rich Asians won’t bomb, and while it won’t beat Black Panther either, the film is every bit as exciting in the way it takes an ethnic group that is seldom given more than one or two supporting roles per movie and populates an entire blockbuster with memorable, multidimensional Asian characters.”
“The comedy is one part Meet the Parents, two parts Cinderella story, with those familiar elements reinvigorated by the fresh setting of upscale Singapore, with its architectural splendors embracing both colonial history and imposing modernist forms. Cinematographer Vanja Cernjul shoots the locations in dynamic widescreen compositions full of bold colors that add to the sense of a 21st-century fairy tale.
Aside from Peik Lin’s outrageously campy mother, there are surprisingly scant traces of pronounced Singlish in the dialogue, and few brown faces to represent Singapore’s large Indian and Malay communities. (Eagle-eyed viewers, however, will find subtle Singaporean references embedded throughout.) But the choice to go for a less localized, more borderless cosmopolitan feel seems right in terms of maximizing the film’s reach and eliminating the need for explanatory footnotes, like those dotted through the novel.”
“Despite having read Didion’s On Self-Respect a hundred times, despite pinning up sections of it in my office for years, I don’t think I fully understood how to reconcile and respect both my Asian and American selves until I watched myself do it onscreen.
So, yes, the characters in Crazy Rich Asians possess a fair amount of rich people entitlement, and some good old American entitlement as well. For those of us who’ve been ‘ching-chong ching-chonged’ or catcalled to ‘go back to China’ or called a ‘zipperhead’ or asked if we speak English, for those of us who ever held ourselves back because we didn’t see people like us living those dreams, who for so long never dared to hope to see a reflection of themselves, for those of us who anxiously hold the mainstream acceptance of a single film as a judgment on whether we’ll ever really belong in this country — well, we could use a little entitlement.”