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Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Crazy Rich Asians

(M) ★★★½

Director: Jon M. Chu.

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno, Ronny Chieng, Jimmy O. Yang, Lisa Lu, Nico Santos.

Distracted by all the beautiful people, no one had noticed that the plants
had begun their clandestine infiltration of the building.
Despite this being a very different beast, Crazy Rich Asians is being uttered in the same breath as Black Panther. The reason for this is that both are genre films featuring non-Anglo casts that have opened wide and killed at the box office, shattering some old Hollywood modes of thinking that are as antiquated and narrow-minded as the old White Australia policy.

These two films mark something of watershed moment in Western cinema (throw The Big Sick into the mix too, please) in terms of how people of colour are portrayed - ie. like normal fucking people with their own stories to tell that can be enjoyed by everyone. Amazing.

But what really matters is whether these films are any good or not. They can't be merely given a pass mark for featuring exclusively non-Anglo casts - they have to be genuinely strong films on their own.

Thankfully Crazy Rich Asians is good. It's a rom-com that doesn't overdo the com, but tells a solid story that dissects the pros and cons of family, expectations, tradition, and intergenerational change.

At its heart is the romance between Rachel (Wu) and Nick (Golding), who are Singapore-bound for Nick's best friend's wedding. Though happily hooked up for a year now, Rachel hasn't met Nick's family back in Singapore - in fact, he hasn't even told them about Rachel. But that's not the only secret set to emerge over the week ahead.

While Rachel and Nick are a painfully perfect couple, the film's story throws up enough disruptions to keep things interesting. The biggest of these is Nick's mother Eleanor (Yeoh), who proves to be a subtle yet fascinating villain of sorts. The "mother-in-law from hell" trope has been done to death, so it's refreshing to see Eleanor portrayed as a real if formidable human being, with actual emotions and reasoning behind her actions.

This is aided by Yeoh's excellent performance. One of the most under-rated acting talents around (as  well as being the greatest female action star of all time and best Bond girl ever), this is another well-crafted turn that adds a layer of gravitas to the film. Yeoh elevates Wu and Golding's performances, which seem to go up a notch in her presence. They're solid throughout, especially Wu, who is the film's heart and soul, but get even better when Yeoh's around.

In the rest of the cast, Awkwafina almost steals the show, as does Santos. There are other comedic roles in the film - Chieng, Jeong, and Yang all have funny parts, but they are hit and miss. It's Awkwafina and Santos who get the best and biggest laughs, without ever going over the top.

And while the film doesn't go over the top in search of humour, it certainly takes us to an OTT world of the "crazy rich" of Asia. The clothes, the cars, the parties, and the locations are remarkable, while the wedding at the centre of the plot is unforgettably stunning and ludicrously extravagant.

Speaking of locations, Crazy Rich Asians has some great scenery going on, but the film wanders into travelogue territory a little too often. It makes Singapore and surrounds look amazing, but the whole "segment on Getaway" vibe could have been dialled down a bit.

The script is not devoid of its predictable moments, clunky jokes and obvious tropes (the ending in particular is textbook rom-com), but it's stylishly directed and breezily told. An overly explored subplot involving Nick's sister Astrid (Chan) does slow things down and pad out the running time, which is probably the film's biggest criticism.

But Crazy Rich Asians deserves all the kudos it can get for its representation of Asian people and putting them front and centre in a widely released rom-com. More than that though, it deserves to be seen purely because it's a fun and well-made romance story that has interesting things to say about the pressures of family and expectation.

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