The Jakarta Post
‘Crazy Rich Asians’ A glamorous rom-com with Asian charm (Courtesy of Warner Bros/-)
Teresa Teng, the late Taiwanese singer, has a lot of songs, but two play in every single one of my extended family’s Lunar New Year gatherings: “Tián mì mì” and “Yuèliàng Dàibiăo Wŏ de Xīn”.
I have heard these songs in many places: a cafeteria in Glodok, my dad’s speakers, at a wake. But I haven’t felt more euphoric than when I heard “Tián mì mì” playing in the movie Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon M. Chu from a script written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same title (it has since been followed by two more books), it is a self-aware, campy observation of the 1 percent — one who buys custom-made designer handbags and books the Marina Bay Sands for the night.
It tells a story of Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, ebullient and multi-faceted), an economics professor at New York University, who travels to Singapore to attend her boyfriend’s, Nick Young (Henry Golding, in a comfortable outing), best friend’s wedding.
She’s also there to meet his family, which includes his cousins (one of them is Astrid Leong-Teo, played by Gemma Chan), aunts and his mother, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh, always a pleasure to see).
The Youngs are, of course, crazy rich. Nick is set to take over the family business, but lives as if he forgot about this (“you use my Netflix password”, Rachel tells him).
As soon as Rachel finds herself in Singapore, you can see the glimmer in her eyes beginning to dim. The family’s not all that welcoming. Nick’s wealth is confusing.
The drama presented in this film brims with humor and ease. It’s a romantic comedy, after all. But the strengths of Crazy Rich Asians hinge on its totality in presenting these rich Asians not as shallow trust-fund kids, but simply as confidently rich.
They don’t scoff at those less wealthy. Which means the audience can look at a yacht party, a bachelorette party on a rented island in Sumatra or virtually no public housing or transportation at all without the need to ridicule them. Crazy Rich Asians is a cinematic bubble.
The humor part is largely thanks to rapper/actress Awkwafina’s character, Goh Peik Lin, Rachel’s college roommate. Her jokes mostly land, and her comedy troupe of a family is a delight (which includes comedian Ken Jeong’s character, Goh Wye Mun).
But the central conflict of the movie — does Rachel belong in the Young household, despite her stature? — is just alright.
What sets the film apart from most romantic comedies starts with the faces of the cast. Hailing from Malaysia, Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom, the central cast is uniformly Asian.
In the US, it’s an achievement — Crazy Rich Asians is the first Asian-led Hollywood movie since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.
Crazy Rich Asians also successfully avoids the tropes of throwing down the weights of “being Asian” on the shoulders of the main characters. Sure, there are some, but they seem normal, unimposing: bringing food in tupperware, Nick’s ah-ma (grandma) asking him if he’s eaten, Eleanor criticizing her son the second they meet.
It is hard, however, to shake off the feeling it may be a triumph for East Asians. Crazy Rich Asians can mean a lot to different people, and it is still a triumph for representation in movies, particularly in the US. But in Singapore, it is a little odd and disheartening not to see a lot of the other ethnicities — Malay and Indian — play any roles in this movie.
Still, a specific look into how Chinese diaspora interact, irrespective of the locations, is still great to see.
For a Chinese-Indonesian, I enjoy the many ways the Young family is similar to my own. We’re not rich, but I have a hunch the family gatherings will have a very animated conversation if I decide to marry someone not of our kin.
Crazy Rich Asians is a nice rom-com and though there are flaws, its triumph will be its strongest feature in days to come.
Crazy Rich Asians
(SK Global Entertainment, Starlight Culture Entertainment, Color Force, Ivanhoe Pictures, Electric Somewhere; 120 minutes)
Director: Jon M. Chu
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Gemma Chan, Sonoya Mizuno, Lisa Lu