CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a likeable though occasionally cliche-ridden American romantic comedy-drama film directed by Jon M. Chu from a screenplay by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name. The film boasts both to be the first film by a major Hollywood studio (Warner Bros.) to feature a majority Asian American cast in a modern setting since THE JOY LUCK CLUB (1993) and likely the first film to be mostly shot in ultra-modern Singapore and parts of Malaysia standing in for the Lion City.
The rom-com plot is quite simple. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) a NYU Economics Professor is brought back to Singapore by her boyfriend Henry Golding (Nick Young) to meet his family. Nick Young belongs to the wealthiest family in Singapore, unbeknown to Rachel. Rachel is put to the test by Henry’s super-strict mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) where proving herself is still not enough for the mother’s approval. Needless to say, the man gets his girl at the end.
As far as performances go, Wu and Golding are ok as the couple. It is Michelle Yeoh (Once a Bond girl and martial-arts star) who shines, her every look and speech making a solid impact. The funniest of the cast is TV’s SUPERSTORE’s Nico Santos who plays Eleanor’s procurer, Oliver who keeps everything in gear and Eleanor happy.
Singapore (nicknamed Asia for Beginners) is a multi-national society that is very different from any other Asian city. The Government is also very strict that Singapore be always presented in a good light. Singapore banned, for example Peter Bogdanovich (THE LAST PCITUE SHOW, WHAT’S UP DOC?) and his film SAINT JACK about a ex-British soldier returning after the War to set up a brothel in Singapore. Bogdanovich submitted a false script, Jack of Diamonds to the Ministry of Culture for approval and shot a totally different film instead. When boasting about the incident back in the States, the Singapore Government got wind of it and banned him from ever entering Singapore again. IN CRAZY RICH ASIANS, Singapore is displayed in all its modernity and prosperity from the first scene at Changi International Airport when Nick Young and girlfriend step off the fictitious airline. The couple is immediately whisked to Newton Hawker’s Centre, where a full display of local food fare is displayed for the audience and for Rachel. The famous triple towers Marine Bay Sands, the timeless Raffles Hotel with the palm trees in the courtyard and the Merlion (lion with the tail of a mermaid) statue sprouting water, are a few of the famous landmarks on display in the film.
As the film is catered to a North American audience, most of the characters speak English with a western (be it American or British) accent. Only a few of the cast speak the commonly heard English. One of Auntie Eleanor’s friends utters one of these when the couple arrive at the house disrupting a Bible Study: Christianity-lah!” But it is Auntie Neena, Rachel’s best friend’s mother (Koh Chieng Mun) who is given the most lines to speak in Singapore’s pidgin English. Koh is a total riot with the film poking fun at the way English is spoken by a local. In Singapore, the most common language spoken is Hokkien, a Chinese dialect. That is never heard in the film, though the language is referenced in the scene where Rachel plays mah-jong with Eleanor with the other ladies. “They won’t understand us (English), Rachel says, “They only understand Hokkien.” In another scene, Eleanor explains that Rachel can never be accepted because she is not ‘kah-kee nang’ (a Hokkien phrase meaning ”own people, or ‘same flesh’). But one glaring omission in the film is the presence of Singapore minority ethnic groups – the Malays and Indians that make up 20% of the population. Only two Singh guards are shown in the film, guarding the family mansion as security.
Audiences who favour romantic comedies are in for a treat. A super-Singapore setting, crazy rich and colourful characters, well choreograph set-ups and laugh-out loud humour all make a well paced crowd pleaser with a happy ending.
CRAZY RICH ASIANS has at the time of writing grossed around $150 million based on a $30 million production cost. The other totally Asian American film SEARCHING starring John Cho (HAROLD AND KUMAR) about a Korean American searching of his missing daughter is also grossing in a huge profit. The sequel for CRAZY RICH ASIAS has already been announced by Warner Bros. There is clearly a huge demand for Asian American films that has just been realized.