It’s fair to say that there has been a lack of representation of East Asian culture and performers in mainstream cinema. Considering that the last time a major Hollywood studio film with a majority Asian cast was released before I was born, it was way overdue for another Hollywood film with a majority Asian cast. I was a bit apprehensive about this though considering the director is John M Chu, whose previous films include GI Joe: Retaliation and Jem and the Holograms. However, my worries were not founded, this is a good, fun, charming rom-com.
The film follows Rachel Chu, an economics professor at NYU, who is currently dating Nick Young. When Nick invites Rachel to the wedding of his best friend, Rachel soon finds out that Nick comes from one of the richest families in East Asia. Whilst it is clear that Rachel and Nick love each other, tension comes in the form of Nick’s family, mainly his mum Eleanor, who takes a dislike to Rachel, seeing her as unworthy to date Nick, with the tension between the two building as preparations for the wedding commence. Now what works about the film is the focus on family. We get a full understanding of the commitments to family that the Young family have and how they manifest in the different dynamics between certain members. Whilst I wanted some members of Nick’s family to get more screentime, especially since they were built up a fair bit in the first act of the film, the decision to mostly focus on Rachel and Eleanor was the right one. Through this, we get the resentment that Eleanor feels towards Rachel and the prejudice that is held against Rachel for being Chinese-American and raised by a single mother. It creates a fascinating dynamic throughout the film, and this is what gives the film a lot of its weight. However, the film also doesn’t forget to be funny and charming. If the whole film was focused on the darker side then the romance probably wouldn’t work as well. The way the film is divided in tone between the family drama and the romance is well handled, giving us enough time to understand why Nick is willing to go against his family for Rachel. There are a few problems I have though, mainly in terms of pacing. The film is 2 hours long and I feel like some parts of it could have been cut out, mainly when it gets too into the excess of Nick’s family, which was the least interesting part about the family.
The performances help add to the charm of the film. Constance Wu as Rachel is a lot of fun, showing her intelligence all the way through and her use of game theory to play off of Nick’s family, with the battle of wills between her and Eleanor forming the core of the film, with Wu selling it well. Henry Golding as Nick meanwhile is incredibly charming, having great chemistry with Wu which helps make the film work as you buy into their relationship. Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor is excellent, showing the resentment she has towards Rachel, but as the film goes on, we gain an understanding as to why Eleanor feels that way and the resentment she faced and the way Yeoh presents that dynamic withing Eleanor helps give the second half of the film a lot of weight. It’s also great to see Gemma Chan as well, I’ve been a fan of Chan since her excellent work in Humans and her performance here is excellent, showing someone who is incredibly kind but filled with insecurity and is ashamed to express her wealth around her husband, leaving her emotionally withdrawn, which again adds weight to the film. Some good comic relief is provided by Awkwafina and Nico Santos, who know how to use body language and facial expressions to tell a great joke. I do feel like Ken Jeong wasn’t utilised right, but he’s a comedic presence it’s hard to get right, if done right you get his work in Community, done wrong you get his work in The Hangover series, and his performance here is somewhere in the middle.
On a technical level, the film is very indulgent in showing off Malaysia, Singapore and Kulala Lumpur, creating some beautiful imagery, but it can lean into style over substance at points. It’s also clear that Chu has gotten better at directing comedy and dramatic scenes since Jem and the Holograms, avoiding the sense of pandering that Jem and the Holograms had. The music meanwhile is a bit on the nose at points, it ends with a Cantonese cover of Coldplay’s Yellow, but it works with the tone of the film.
Overall, Crazy Rich Asians is a good bit of fun, elevated by a clear respect for East Asian culture and an incredibly charismatic cast. Just being the first Hollywood film with a majority East Asian cast since 1993 would have been enough to make this film notable but, whilst I think there were elements that could have been handled better in terms of pacing and character development, the film as a whole is incredibly charming and just left me happy after it ended.
My Rating: 4/5