Film Review: CRAZY RICH ASIANS (USA 2018) ***1/2

Crazy Rich Asians Poster
Trailer

This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.

Director:

Jon M. Chu

Writers:

Peter Chiarelli (screenplay by), Adele Lim (screenplay by) | 1 more credit »

 

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.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQ-YX-5bAs0

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Movie Review: NOW YOU SEE ME 2

now_you_see_me_2NOW YOU SEE ME 2 (USA 2016) ***
Directed by Jon M. Chu

Starring: Jesse Eisenberg, Mark Ruffalo, Woody Harrelson, Lizzy Caplan, Dave Franco, Daniel Radcliffe, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman

Review by Gilbert Seah

NOW YOU SEE ME 2, the sequel to the unexpected hit NOW YOU SEE ME has the same 4 horsemen return for another round of magic trickery to astound audiences, whether they love magic or not.

Except for Lizzy Caplan taking over the female role from Isla Fisher, most of the original cast returns. Jesse Eisenberg plays the main role of Daniel “Danny” Atlas, the group leader followed by Woody Harrelson as Chase, Dave Franco as Jack Wilder, Caplan as Lula and Mark Ruffalo as the FBI mole. There are two sets of bad guys here. One is the FBI – a favourite target organization hated by (most) Americans and non-Americas alike. The other is Walter Mabry (Daniel Radcliffe) an unethical magnate that the Horsemen want to expose for unethical tactics, together with his father, Arthur Tresslr (Michael Caine).

Performances are key to a movie like this. It is not surprising for the filmmakers to assemble such an an impressive cast, all of whom inject sufficient seriousness and energy into the venture. But Radcliffe (HARRY POTTER) looks ill at ease at playing a bad guy as does Michael Caine.

The magic tricks performed in the film are especially outlandish. The are also performed really quickly with the solutions provided ever quicker. When the horsemen first appear again in public, they chose the most famous venues in London such as Trafalgar Square. The tricks include making rain disappear and people transported by plane. But the trickery is explained with the solution often so simple. The disappearing rain is accomplished through rain machines and strobe lights.

The best trick on display involves the horsemen forced to flee from their enemy. They leap off a rooftop through a chute and land up in China. If this act appears impossible, the revelation of how this occurs illustrates the power of imagination in a script that writer Ed Solomon constantly impresses. Though the film runs more than 2 hours, it is too long even though one hardly feels it.

Just as magic often uses doubles, the script cleverly adds a component of Merritt’s evil twin brother, again played by Harrelson, hamming it out the best he can in two different roles.

The business aspect of the film? NOW YOU SEE ME 2 hopes to pull in some big bucks for the flailing Lionsgate, the studio responsible for HUNGER GAMES and the TWILIGHT films, now in dire need of a big hit after the shares took a plunge last earnings session after a drop in quarterly revenue. But the bottom line is that this film provides just more of the same tricks – nothing more, nothing less. The first film was a surprise hit taking the box-office by storm. Lionsgate has lumped a larger amount of $90 million into the sequel, a sort of ‘we need a hit regardless of expense’. The film is up against stiff competition with WARCRAFT and CONJURING 2 both opening this same weekend. Looks like Lionsgate needs some magic on its own.