Crazy Rich Asians is a film filled with beautiful people wearing beautiful outfits going to beautiful places.
Which is why I was surprised to find myself a little teary-eyed by the end of it. How does a film about a group of people obssessed with the things on the outside move me so much on the inside?
Crazy Rich Asians, based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan, opens with Singapore-born, New York-based professor Nick Young (Henry Golding) asking his Asian-American colleague and girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) to come to Singapore and accompany him to his best friend’s wedding.
Rachel, who had a modest upbringing and was raised by a single mother, discovers that Nick has been hiding one tiny detail about his origins – oh just that he’s an heir to one of Singapore’s wealthiest families.
Thrown into the deep end, Rachel has to navigate through the lifestyle of the ultra-rich and make a good impression, especially on Nick’s imposing mother, Eleanor (Tan Sri Michelle Yeoh).
Crazy Rich Asians is a fun, dazzling rom-com from start to finish. It’s essentially a Cinderella story featuring a love story between two people from vastly different social classes, conniving characters plotting to tear them apart and there’s even a makeover session!
But it’s also more than that. It’s the first Hollywood movie to feature an all-Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club in 1993. It’s even more special for viewers here as it tells the story of Asians living in our part of the world.
My heart soared when I heard the lahs and mahs fall off some of the characters’ lips. Seeing our unique way of speaking English represented in a Hollywood production is something I never thought was possible.
However, don’t expect all its Singaporean characters to speak Singlish. In fact, some of them sport accents from the West, which can be a bit confusing. But then again, it does make sense since these affluent characters probably received an overseas education.
Then there’s the food. Chicken rice, satay, kuih lapis. The film features in vivid detail an array of scrumptious food I’ve eaten my whole life, which made me feel a surge of pride and not to mention, made my stomach growl.
Of course it wouldn’t be Crazy Rich Asians without showing viewers the “crazy rich” part. The film spared no expense in making sure its characters are swimming in luxury.
Aside from the resplendent designer frocks, the set and production design is absolutely decadent. One scene in particular, which sees Nick’s best friend getting married in a nature-themed wedding ceremony, is so over the top yet magical. (Mark my words, wedding planners will be flooded with requests to recreate the ceremony, which can only be described as “paddy field glam”.)
While the film is set in Singapore and features iconic landmarks like Marina Bay Sands and Gardens by the Bay, some of it was shot in Malaysia. Seeing Carcosa Seri Negara – used in the film as the Young family’s mansion – in all its glory actually gave me goosebumps.
Another thing that gave me goosebumps? Superb acting performances especially by the incomparable Yeoh. The former Bond girl had a look in her eyes that told her character’s story even before she said a word.
Awkwafina, who plays Rachel’s best friend Peik Lin, is probably the most memorable character from the show. She is hilarious. Her down-to-earth comedic sensibilities nicely contrasts the uppity world the film is set in.
It was hard for me to imagine Wu playing Rachel initially because I only saw her as the no-nonsense mother of three from Fresh Off The Boat. But Wu proved me wrong. She embodies both Rachel’s vulnerability and strength.
Travel host-turned-actor Golding does not disappoint in his first ever acting role. He manages to evoke an air of sophistication but there’s also a kindness and a warmth in his eyes, which lends beautifully to his character Nick.
Ultimately, what impressed me most about Crazy Rich Asians is it showed viewers what it means to be Asian through and through, not just in the way we speak or the food we eat or by having an all-Asian cast on screen.
One of the major strands of the film is the importance of filial piety – putting our elder’s wishes first, often ahead of our dreams and passions. This moved me to tears.
It’s significant because Hollywood movies have always preached the idea that we must chase after our own dreams no matter the cost. While that is something we Asians want to do, sometimes we simply cannot because of these Asian values that we hold dear to.
For the first time, or what feels like the first time, we have a Hollywood movie explaining why.
Crazy Rich Asians
Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Henry Golding, Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Pierre Png, Tan Kheng Hua.