Crazy Rich Asians

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cassowary
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Crazy Rich Asians

Post by cassowary » Sun Aug 19, 2018 8:15 am

Reviewer: Conspicuously Consuming Fun
Crazy Rich Asians,” a movie about people who have it all, succeeds in having almost all on its own ambitious terms. Bright, buoyant and hilarious, though far from flawless, this romantic comedy, directed by Jon M. Chu and based on the popular novel by Kevin Kwan, is also a cultural milestone. It’s the first major studio film since “The Joy Luck Club” opened almost a quarter-century ago in which an Asian filmmaker has told an Asian-American story with Asians in all of the leading roles. The result is hugely enjoyable, and hooray for Hollywood for making it happen.

The story plays out mainly in Singapore, though it begins in New York, where the Chinese-American heroine, Rachel Chu ( Constance Wu ), teaches economics at NYU. (A brief preface, set in London in 1995, is worthy of “Fawlty Towers”—a hotelier heaping unctuous condescension on exceedingly rich foreign visitors who soon take their sweet revenge.) The script, by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, sets up its premise briskly. Rachel’s boyfriend, a handsome Chinese-Singaporean named Nick Young ( Henry Golding ), is going back home for his best friend’s wedding. Since she’s never been to Asia, he invites her to go with him. By now we know what Rachel has never managed to find out—that Nick is not only charming, but Prince Charming, the scion of a fabulously wealthy family—so we’re delighted and she’s astonished when they board a commercial jet and he shows her to their in-flight suite, which is slightly smaller than a cottage.

That’s only the beginning of her astonishment. Introduced to Nick’s fiercely possessive mother, Eleanor ( Michelle Yeoh ), and to his extended family, Rachel discovers a sprawling precinct of super-privilege where the notion of excess has been annulled. (A friend of hers from college lives in a lesser estate that is likened, by the friend’s mother, to “Versailles with Donald Trump bathrooms.”)


Another professor of economics might be concerned about income disparity, but this is a jubilant fantasy in which spending can’t be conspicuous enough, and in any case Rachel’s specialty is game theory—she isn’t inclined to fret, and neither are we. Watching “Crazy Rich Asians” can be a pleasure akin to reading about preposterous spreads in a real-estate section, and salivating over recipes in a magazine. (Vanja Cernjul’s camera lingers on alluring street foods, and one sequence is devoted to making dumplings.)

But there’s more to the proceedings than one-percenters and their glittering things. The central, and surprisingly heartfelt, conflict turns on how family is defined. For Rachel, it’s a source of sustenance; she has the unswerving love of her single mother, Kerry ( Tan Kheng Hua ). For Nick, family is a clan he’s expected to serve and a prison from which he has sought to escape. For Nick’s mother, it’s a fortress built to repel alien invaders like Rachel, who, in Eleanor’s eyes, is a Chinese-American adventuress and insufficiently Chinese.

It’s probably inevitable in these querulous times that “Crazy Rich Asians” has been criticized in some quarters as being too Chinese, as if its proper subject were Singapore’s complex demographics, and, notwithstanding its focus on racial identity, for casting a biracial actor— Mr. Golding is of Malaysian and English descent—in a Chinese-Singaporean role.

The production can be faulted on other grounds. A couple of sequences—a bachelor party on a barge, a shopping spree on an Indonesian island—prove that even excess can be excessive; these shrill, antic spectacles are less eye-popping than eye-glazing. Secondary performances sometimes careen through heedless exuberance into flat-out clumsiness; Mr. Chu is at his best as a director of actors in calmer scenes with strong emotional charges. The script ranges from mordantly funny (that sharp-witted preface; a game of mah-jongg as mortal combat; one-liners like a Singaporean parent urging a kid to eat by saying “A lot of children are starving in America”) to gratuitous and heavy (a partygoer heckles Rachel with “Hey, Cinderella, what’s the matter, you’ve got to return your coach at midnight?”).

Still, the film’s appeal transcends its flaws, as well as matters of ethnicity, identity and inclusiveness—which is not to diminish its significance for moviegoers of Asian descent who can finally see romantic or comic versions of themselves in a glossy, mainstream entertainment on a big screen. The story is, in equal parts, gleefully trendy and endearingly old-fashioned. Will the globalized greed of a powerful family prevail, or will true love win out in the end?


Ms. Wu, familiar to fans of TV’s “Fresh Off the Boat,” has made an impressive transition to feature-film stardom; she’s a graceful presence and when Rachel decides to game the social system rigged against her, a forceful one. (The narrative is rich in strong women.) Mr. Golding, previously a model and TV host, hasn’t had much dramatic experience, but you’d never know it from his winning performance. Gemma Chan brings acting chops plus striking beauty to the role of Nick’s rich but sensitive cousin Astrid. Nora Lum, the actress and rapper known as Awkwafina, steals scenes with unerring comic instinct as Rachel’s rich but raffish friend Goh Peik Lin. And anyone with a sense of movie history will be moved by the marvelous Ms. Yeoh, who was so memorable as the love-starved fighter in “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” and by 91-year-old Lisa Lu, who plays Nick’s grandmother and the matriarch of his family. Anyone, in this case, means anyone. “Crazy Rich Asians” includes us all.

neverfail
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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by neverfail » Sun Aug 19, 2018 2:15 pm

Did you spot your alter ego in any of those movie characters Cass? :)

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cassowary
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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by cassowary » Sun Aug 19, 2018 9:16 pm

Haha. I have not seen the movie yet.

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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by neverfail » Mon Aug 20, 2018 12:32 am

Neither have I. When I do I will endeavour to pick you out. :)

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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by SteveFoerster » Mon Aug 20, 2018 6:55 pm

I'd watch Constance Wu read the phone book, so I guess I'll have to see this.
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cassowary
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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by cassowary » Wed Aug 22, 2018 8:33 am

I just watched the movie today with my son. Here are my impressions and comments.

I think the movie is a quite accurate portrayal of Singapore life. Many of the actors and actresses talk like us because they are real Singaporeans. There was a mix of Chinese dialects and English were spoken in the movie - just like in Singapore. I heard Mandarin, Hokkien and Cantonese spoken in the movie. But no Malay and Indian languages. Singapore has complex demographics.

Then there was a scene of a group of ladies having Bible study. My wife does that with a group of ladies too. Over here, the men and women will form different groups. I used to belong to one too but the group dissolved. I guess men are not as religious as women.

The movie had steely, strong women. That too is so Singaporean. In fact, Eleanor reminds me of my own mother. In the movie, Eleanor was the mother of Nick Young, a scion of a wealthy Chinese family. Nick is in love with a Chinese-American girl who is poor. Eleanor disapproves of the match. My mom also disapproved of my girlfriend because she came from a poor family. But I married her anyway. We now have three kids but my mom still does not like my wife.

Eleanor told Rachel why she did not accept Rachel. As an American, Rachel has learned to live her life for her own happiness. But in Chinese society, family comes first. Each member must do what's good for the family even if he or she is not happy or fulfilled. In my case, my wife understood. As the only son, I am expected to care for my widowed mother. This meant that I have to stay in the same home as her. And of course, it meant that she has to live in a house where the matriarch dislikes her.

She sacrificed her happiness for the family. Now she has taught my kids to do the same for their family. Maybe that's why Chinese women become steely and strong. They have to be, in order to survive.

There are inaccuracies. The small one is that the Sikh guards were armed. Guns are not allowed in Singapore. The big inaccuracy is that the rich are portrayed to be throwing money around. The rich I know are actually very cheapskate. The Chinese have traditionally been like the Scots and Jews. I know one of the richest men in Singapore.

At night, his living room is dimly lit so as to save on his electricity bill. I could hardly see! But the younger generation who did not earn the money the hard way is more liberal in their spending. Thank God my kids are frugal. I have brought them up the right way.

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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by Jim the Moron » Wed Aug 22, 2018 10:49 am

Wonderful, insightful commentary, cassowary.

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cassowary
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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by cassowary » Wed Aug 22, 2018 6:06 pm

Thanks Jim.

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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by SteveFoerster » Mon Aug 27, 2018 1:04 pm

Yes, I'm interesting in this movie and appreciate your review!
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neverfail
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Re: Crazy Rich Asians

Post by neverfail » Tue Sep 18, 2018 8:02 pm

I saw the movie with my wife just recently. meant to ask you how true to life is it?. No need to ask now as you have already answered my question in your most recent post. Thanks Cass.

P.S. The Indian guards depicted in the movie were armed: but in Singapore they are not permitted to bear arms? Had they not been shown that way American cinema going audiences would probably not have believed it possible. :)

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