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Based on Kevin Kwan's best-selling novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians spins a familiar and comfortable Cinderella story, though one with a unique twist. For decades, storytellers have mined the standard fish-out-of-water, culture-shock premise for romance, comedy, or both. In the case of Crazy Rich Asians, we get an "outsider" in the formula who, on the surface, looks like the insiders. And that helps keep things interesting.
To that end, Crazy Rich Asians fills a vacuum that exists in the current entertainment landscape. Two of them, in fact. Director Jon M. Chu has adapted Kevin Kwan's book into a classic and pleasing Rom-Com, a genre that used to flourish but now joins Westerns and Noir as forgotten relics. In addition, the movie celebrates its Asian-led ensemble, another rarity that's helping Crazy Rich Asians make Hollywood headlines, even before it opens in theaters.
Both are reasons to celebrate, and I'm happy to report that Jon M. Chu's movie shouldn't just be recognized for breaking through culture barricades. It's also, on its own merit, an exotic and entertaining crowd-pleaser, a romantic, beautiful, opulent and lively comedy that's formulaic but gifted with a light touch, giving audiences a noteworthy look at a global neighborhood we don't get to see that often with this type of Hollywood sheen. (One has to go all the way back to 1993's The Joy Luck Club to find a Hollywood production that featured Asian-American actors in every lead role.)
New York City hotshot Nick Young (Henry Golding) needs to return to Singapore to serve as best man in an old friend's wedding, and he thinks he's ready to bring his steady girlfriend, Rachel (Constance Wu), home to meet his family. Nick and Rachel are getting serious, though the path to Nick's heart is blocked by overprotective relatives, by deeply-ingrained rituals, and by cultural practices that seem to prevent this wealthy heir from partnering with an Asian-American. You see, Nick's family is crazy rich. And his mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), lords over her clan with an iron fist. Will Rachel ever be able to win over Nick's family?
Mind you, the premise for Crazy Rich Asians is built on a flimsy foundation. We need to believe that Rachel dated Nick for a year, and she never Google'd him or his family once? It's a hefty logic pothole you need to step over to enjoy the ride that is Crazy Rich Asians, but once we're firmly on the path to cinematic happiness, the movie coasts smoothly through the recognizable elements of the rom-com template.
Jon M. Chu's movie elevates itself every time it leans into the "Rich" part of the Crazy Rich Asians. Singapore is shot like a fantasy land, with Chu's cameras lingering on Malaysia's opulent architecture, pristine beaches, and sumptuous food. On its most basic visual, production level, Crazy Rich Asians succeeds as travel porn that earns a look on the big screen.
Then there's the blatant fact that most of the crazy, rich Asians actually are crazy, rich assholes -- catty, vapid backbiters opposed to Nick and Rachel's relationship... mainly because it interferes with their own self-serving goals. But for every superficial supporting player, Crazy Rich Asians counters with Awkwafina, playing a candid and often hilarious scene-stealing best friend. Chu balances the petty with the pretty, and never tips his applecart.
At the heart of Crazy Rich Asians lies an important lesson about passing down traditions from one generation to the next, and in a sense, Jon M. Chu is doing this with the rom-com genre. Sure, the screenplay telegraphs a few of its dramatic twists. But by the time we reach a vintage makeover montage set to a K-Pop cover version of Madonna's "Material Girl," we accept that Asians both scratches an itch for Rom-Com devotees, and simultaneously shows a new generation how to pull these films off, properly.