Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

JON M. CHU

Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB.  USA, 2018.  , , .  Screenplay by , , based on the novel by .  Cinematography by .  Produced by , , .  Music by .  Production Design by .  Costume Design by .  Film Editing by .

A New York economics professor () happily says yes to her handsome boyfriend () when he asks her to fly to Singapore with him and meet his relatives.  Boarding an airplane and being shown to the super swanky first class lounge, Wu realizes something that never occurred to her until this very moment: her boyfriend is fabulously wealthy, and impressing his extended family isn’t going to be simple.  Arriving in southeast Asia and reconnecting with an old college roommate (, who provides nonstop laughs), Wu finds out that she actually has her work cut out, her fiance’s family the city-state’s leading industrialists with royal family-level power and influence.  She believes her qualifications as both a serious professional and a pluckily charming girl from a good family will be enough to impress Golding’s world, and so she ventures forth with sanguine confidence, but is quickly destabilized by an icy matriarch () whose standard of quality is awe-inspiring, a city full of rich and connected women who are fuming at this upstart taking away their crown prince, and a culture whose emphasis of wealth and tradition makes her feel like an ugly American.  What none of this plot synopsis reveals, however, is how ridiculously funny this film is when these scenarios play themselves out; this gorgeously splashy, shamelessly indulgent adaptation of the first book in Kevin Kwan’s worldwide bestselling trilogy gets off to a weak start not helped by Wu’s thin (though not terrible) acting, but then strikes gold when Wu arrives at Awkwafina’s Versailles-inspired house (complete with pompadour-coiffed dad ), and the delights stay consistent until the end.  A weird subplot involving an exquisite as an heiress who learns to stop apologizing for her wealth (as aspirational a movie fantasy as ever there was) strikes a lot of false notes for even the most committed capitalist, a story told with a strange and undeserved level of sincerity, but to accept such nonsense as an element of the film’s guilty pleasure status is to appreciate the return of films like How To Marry A Millionaire (with plot shades of Jane Austen) to the big screen.  The main disappointment here is a rushed and tonally unresolved ending, in which western belief in romance meets eastern ideas of duty and honour and one simply pummels the other into submission without reaching an intelligent compromise.  Yeoh, who has come to a goddess-worthy level of control and dramatic power as an actor (at least in roles that don’t require her amazing martial arts skills), is ill-served by a story that simply decides to label her old-fashioned and illogical when what she really is is highly principled and, possibly, a bit too paranoid.  Wu’s character, on the flipside, actually is a responsible and qualified individual (as proven by her interaction with an intellectual princess, a plot strand that is grossly dropped too quickly) and possesses the qualities that Yeoh requires, but instead argues for the value of something as unreliable as true love.  Visually sumptuous and brimming over with warm characterizations, there’s still a pleasure to this one even when facing its flaws, and every character is well worth cherishing.

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