“Crazy Rich Asians”: rich in revenue, not in narrative

Opulence and exotic flavours make Crazy Rich Asians a fresh take on the frequently explored fish-out-of-water tale. Despite a rewarding conclusion and the film’s overall significance in Hollywood, problems with the storytelling inhibits the milestone movie reaching its full potential.

Jarring and awkwardly paced moments are littered throughout the excessive running time. But the main problem with the plot is that it focuses too much on its principal arc; that of the dynamics between couple Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding), and Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). The insecurities associated with meeting your partner’s parents is well-trodden ground, and although this particular setting in Chinese Singaporean culture is a breath of fresh air, the fundamentals of the storyline remain recognisable.

On the other hand, the ‘marriage in crisis’ storyline between Astrid (Gemma Chan) and Michael (Pierre Png) had a lot more to offer, but insufficient development in this arc yielded a vague output. The film would have benefitted from redistributing some screen time away from the principal story and towards the other plots that were unfolding in the background. This would have fit the title well – better, perhaps – and would have helped to achieve a higher level of substance in the many relationships the film explores.

The film finds strength in its recognisable ensemble cast. Constance Wu (Eastsiders, Fresh Off The Boat) plays Rachel with intelligence and charisma and clearly Henry Golding is well-suited to play the Prince Charming type. But his good looks can’t save Golding’s performance bordering on the bland. Gemma Chan (HumansSherlock) balances fragility and strength excellently, and the likes of Ken Jeong (Community, The Hangover) and Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley) have outsized screen presences. Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8) is loud and sassy and easily the best part of the cast. She delivers comic relief when it is needed most.

Crazy Rich Asians is unlike any film made by a Hollywood studio and it’s worth mentioning that it was clearly made by the right people. Jon M. Chu’s adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s book of the same name features cultural details throughout which have been widely appreciated for their authenticity. But Hollywood had hardly set the bar particularly high.

The best part of the film comes in the final handful of scenes. Whilst playing Mahjong, Rachel makes an emotional and heart-breaking speech to Eleanor, with the outcome of the Mahjong game beautifully and craftily mimicking the development of the story. And the final scene that plays out on a plane is necessarily cheesy, and is a well-executed example of the director showing the audience something, rather than heavy-handedly telling.

Although the film had some issues, I look forward to returning to Crazy Rich Asians at some point in the future. And I am most excited about the opportunities the critical and commercial success of this films opens up, both for the cast and for Hollywood studio productions.

Crazy Rich Asians is in UK cinemas now.


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