Crazy Rich Asians begins like an all-Asian Gossip Girl yet ascends to very dizzy heights, offering a worthy twenty-first century update of Ang Lee’s ‘90s romantic comedies. Once Rachel (Wu) and Nick (Golding) leave the bland, archetypal romcom setting of Manhattan for Singapore it’s an absolute blast.
Two hours is a lengthy runtime for a romcom, but Crazy Rich Asians continually challenges the label, enlivening and extending the form with a level of characterisation and attention to detail rarely achieved. There’s at least as much com as rom, and a well-kept-secret of a cameo from Ken Jeong steps up the funnies considerably. If you don’t enter loving Awkwafina, you will leave doing so; she makes a hysterical bid for the title of best ever romcom BFF.
The screenplay is fit to burst, packing in subtle commentary on identity politics and culture shock alongside scheming, family secrets, and several large set pieces. No expense is spared in conveying the staggering opulence of the titular elite. There’s privilege in spades but for once not of the white variety.
In a thrilling move, the film makes no concession to Western audiences by refusing to explain the ins and outs of Mahjong strategy in a pivotal scene. The game is really a cipher for machinations within the larger plot, and all is made perfectly intelligible via snappy visual storytelling.
Although Crazy Rich Asians is framed by the irreverence and grounded perspective of Wu’s Rachel, there can be no doubt that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. Though the visual banquet of riches often seems debauched, the finale is an unqualified love letter to wealth that pairs uneasily with the emotion-led narrative trajectory.
Flawed, yet still easily the biggest, best, and most memorable romcom in years. A single viewing won’t suffice.
CAST: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan
DIRECTOR: Jon M. Chu
WRITERS: Peter Chiarelli (screenplay by), Adele Lim (screenplay by), Kevin Kwan (based on the novel “Crazy Rich Asians” by)
SYNOPSIS: This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.