While it feels like it’s been a long time since a romantic comedy came to theatres from a major studio, it has been even longer (25 years in fact) since an all-Westernised Asian cast was featured in Hollywood (1993’s “The Joy Luck Club”). Considering we’ve had more than 30 Adam Sandler films in that time, this film certainly highlights the under-representation of Asian roles on screen.
So yes, there’s a lot of pressure on this film to perform, one novelist Kevin Kwan and director John M. Chu added to their shoulders when they turned down a massive pay day from Netflix in order to ensure an Asian American film would hit the cinemas once at least once this decade.
But if they were feeling the pressure, they don’t show it. “Crazy Rich Asians” goes straight to the top of the romantic comedy rich list.
It’s funny, it’s poignant, it looks great, and it makes a film about the one per cent of Asia surprisingly relateable.
The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her long-time boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life. Not only is he the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families, but also one of its most sought-after bachelors. Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh) taking aim.
This is the kind of film you can enjoy multiple viewings of, and may even become this decade’s “Devil Wears Prada” as an endearing (not so guilty) pleasure. The casting is spot on, with an incredibly likeable turn from Constance Wu and Henry Golding as the central couple and essentially the straight roles of the film – a hard thing to pull off with so many colourful characters around them. Michelle Yeoh brings complexity to what could be easily be a two-dimensional disapproving mother-in-law stereotype, Gemma Chan as Astrid is the embodiment of class, and a shout-out to Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and Nick Santos for pulling off the biggest laughs.
The production is also superb, with a classic and colourful styling that nails the essence of the book, and demonstrates Warner Bros’ investment in getting this right.
How this film performs will determine whether we have to wait another 25 years to see an all-Westernised Asian cast on screen again. Given this is an adaption of the first book in a trilogy, let’s hope it’s not so long.