“Crazy Rich Asians” topped industry expectations, earning about $34 million in its initial five days, and is being hailed as a breakthrough because it’s the first Hollywood movie since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 to have an entirely Asian cast.
Unfortunately, “Crazy Rich Asians” is mired in predictable characters and a cliche-riddled plot.
NYU economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) have been a couple for about a year, and they’re headed to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. When they get on the plane, she’s shocked to find they’re flying first class, and the airline staff seems to know him. That’s because Nick is the scion of one of the world’s richest families, a secret he’s kept from Rachel until now. Don’t ask me how, in a world of Google (and Baidu) and all the social media sites, a woman doesn’t know something so easily-discovered about the man she’s living with. You have to buy that conceit to go along with the rest of the “Crazy Rich Asians” ride.
When they get to Singapore, as she finds herself in culture shock among the 1% of the 1%, Rachel is introduced to Nick’s overbearing mother (Michelle Yeoh), who doesn’t approve of her son’s choice of an American-born woman. On top of that, there are various other relatives (cousins, aunts, etc.) who also frown on Rachel. Her only ally is Peik Lin (Awkwafina), her old college roommate whose family is among the nouveau riche, too.
Sadly, most of the performances in “Crazy Rich Asians” are over the top. The only two I admired were Wu, star of ABC’s “Fresh Off The Boat,” who has a magnetism that translates very well to the big screen, and Awkwafina, who continues her breakout year following her role in “Ocean’s 8” a couple of months ago. But Michelle Yeoh — who first impressed me in her action sequences and chemistry with Pierce Brosnan in “Tomorrow Never Dies” and then “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” — is wasted as the family matriarch. It’s not that she’s bad, it’s that the character is so one-note.
So are most of the movie’s other women, whose only roles seem to be to undercut the Rachel-Nick relationship. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of scene-chewing courtesy of Ken Jeong, subtlety-free as always as Peik Lin’s father. Ditto for Bernard (Jimmy Yang), Nick’s irresponsibly wild cousin, and the token gay character Oliver (Nico Santos), who is of course called upon to help Rachel find the perfect dress to wear to the wedding. As for the leading man, Henry Golding as Nick is this movie’s Henry Cavill (“Mission: Impossible — Fallout”), in that he’s classically handsome, but otherwise quite bland.
Aside from Wu and Awkwafina, the best thing to look at in “Crazy Rich Asians” is Singapore, so positively gorgeous through the lens of cinematographer Vanja Cernjul it can’t help but increase tourism to the city/state.
Apart from the rarity of its casting and its beautiful locations, “Crazy Rich Asians” isn’t much more than a standard ethnic rom-com along the lines of “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” (although there’s no Chinese equivalent of Andrea Martin). It ends exactly the way you expect it to end, and — like the Nia Vardalos project — will likely beget a sequel, since the novel the movie is based on became so popular that author Kevin Kwan wrote two followups.
But as for this one, I give “Crazy Rich Asians” a 5 out of 10.