By HEATHER TURK
Front Row Features Film Critic
While cultures may be different the world over, the concept of love is truly universal. Most everyone loves a good love story—no pun intended—regardless of one’s nationality or skin color.
Warner Bros.’ new romantic-comedy, “Crazy Rich Asians,” reminds audiences of this fact by being your typical Hollywood rom-com with one major twist: its leading actress isn’t Sandra Bullock, Reese Witherspoon, Julia Roberts or any one of Hollywood’s other sweethearts. Instead, the star of the film is the beautiful and talented Constance Wu, best known as the controlling Taiwanese-American matriarch from ABC’s hit comedy, “Fresh Off the Boat.” She leads an all-Asian cast in a film that truthfully has been done several times before, just with Caucasians in the leading roles.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel of the same name, “Crazy Rich Asians” follows brilliant, Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu (Wu) as she travels to Singapore with her handsome Chinese boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding in his feature film debut), to attend his best friend’s wedding. While the two New York University professors have been dating for a year, Nick has kept one very important thing from Rachel: he is the scion of one of Asia’s wealthiest families and considered to be one of the country’s most sought-after bachelors.
While poor Rachel was nervous at first about meeting Nick’s family, she soon discovers she has much more to worry about, as not only is his family judging her, but every socialite in town is out to break up the happy couple in hopes of landing Nick for themselves. With only her former college roommate (who conveniently lives in Singapore) on her side, Rachel has to prove to everyone that even though she may not come from a wealthy, powerful family, she’s still worthy of being priceless in Nick’s eyes.
Despite the screenplay by Peter Chiarelli (“The Proposal”) and Adele Lim (“Reign”) being all too predictable, “Crazy Rich Asians” manages to keep viewers’ attention throughout its two-hour runtime thanks to its charismatic leading lady and rich visuals. The film, which is directed by Jon M. Chu (“Now You See Me 2”), is truly stunning and almost serves as a tourism ad for Asia. Even if moviegoers never thought of visiting Singapore before (where most of the movie was shot on location), chances are they’ll leave the theater adding it to their travel bucket list after seeing some of its gorgeous sights.
Only Awkwafina (“Ocean’s Eight”) manages to steal the spotlight from the lush locale as Rachel’s former Stanford roommate, Peik Lin Goh, and the film’s main comic relief. While Ken Jeong (“The Hangover”) also appears in the film as Peik Lin Goh’s dad, minus one Ellen DeGeneres joke, his goofy nature is starting to get old and comes across more annoying than funny this time around.
Sadly, for a film that’s being touted as the first Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club,” most of the actors aren’t really given enough material to work with to leave a lasting impression. It’s hard to keep track of most of Nick’s relatives, as the majority of the characters only appear briefly in the film. Only his cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan, “Humans”) gets a decent—albeit predictable—subplot to work with. Chan does a commendable job, though, of making audiences root for her reserved character by the film’s end. Michelle Yeoh (“Tomorrow Never Dies”) as Nick’s icy mom, Eleanor, also plays her part as the overprotective, traditional Asian mother well, although her character’s revelation toward the end of the film’s second act that she, too, wasn’t seen as good enough for her husband in his mother’s (Lisa Lu, “The Joy Luck Club”) eyes doesn’t have quite the impact it should.
Other than the fact that “Crazy Rich Asians” is a mainstream Hollywood movie, it’s also a bit weird, if viewers think about it, that most of the dialogue spoken in the film is English when the majority of the movie takes place in Singapore. It makes sense for the characters to speak English whenever Rachel is around (even though the New Yorker speaks Chinese, too), but there are a lot of situations where it seems unnatural for Nick’s family and friends to be speaking to each other in English. Viewers are especially reminded of this fact whenever the film’s catchy soundtrack plays, as cleverly many of the songs are Asian covers of popular American tunes like Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Coldplay’s “Yellow.”
These flaws aside, “Crazy Rich Asians” still manages to sweep viewers away by the end of the film with its extravagant, fairy-tale like love story. Even though, as Rachel points out to her mom (Tan Kheng Hua, “Marco Polo”) before leaving for the trip, she and Nick had never even talked about getting married before heading to Singapore, audiences can’t help but feel for Rachel’s character and want to see her get her happily ever after. It’s just a shame, for a film that’s garnered so much publicity for its groundbreaking cast, that the material is so ordinary. Ultimately, “Crazy Rich Asians” plays like any other entertaining, run-of-the-mill Hollywood rom-com—which is both a good thing and a bad thing.