Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

dfn_crazy_rich_asians_300In brief: Yeah, OK if you like love and romance and kissing and stuff. And Constance Wu. And Michelle Yeoh! Yeah, Yeoh!

As a longtime single person, now grown old and moldy, watching romantic comedies is not my forte. Sometimes, however, one must put down money in order to support a worthwhile cinematic endeavor that is … blah blah blah.

And so I paid my own money to watch Crazy Rich Asians on a weekday afternoon — matinee prices, true, but still — with the idea of swallowing the medicine of a romantic comedy about wealthy people to help support a rare Hollywood-produced film that features an Asian / Asian-American cast in a story filled with Asian ideas about love, money, and romance. Soon enough, I found myself (mostly) caught up in the fizzy atmosphere and low-key culture dramatics, and then realized the film had (somewhat) captured my Americanized heart.

Primarily, that’s due to Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh. I became aware of Wu through her portrayal of a very controlling mother on TV sitcom Fresh Off the Boat. The show experienced some troubled waters in its first season, due to complaints raised by Eddie Huang, whose autobiography served as inspiration for the show. I can’t speak to issues of authenticity, but the show improved markedly in its balance of comedy with more serious aspects in its second season, and it’s continued to improve.

In that show, Wu plays the mother of three boys, and I have yet to catch up with her other work. So it was a little disorienting to see her as Rachel Chu, an economics professor in New York City, dating a businessman named Nick Young (Henry Golding). Very quickly, however, she establishes her character as a modestly assured, well educated professional who is capable of handling any situation that might arise.

Thus, the prospect of heading to Singapore to attend a wedding with Nick, and to meet his family for the first time, sounds very appealing. Raised in New York, she’s never been to Asia before, and she’s been dating Nick long enough to start thinking about a possible future together with him. What a perfect opportunity!

Very quickly, though, she learns that Nick has not been very forthcoming about his family nor his background. She finds herself in a battle for her soul, when it comes right down to it.

Throughout the first act of the film, the tone is effervescent. She remains confident about her deep feelings for Nick, even as his family begins to chip away at her confidence, and about her own identity. In time, the tone becomes more melodramatic, and this is due to large part to Nick’s mother, Eleanor, played by the magnificent Michelle Yeoh.

My introduced to Yeoh came in Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), the James Bond adventure, but my eyes to her talents were opened much wider after I started diving into Hong Kong cinema about two years later. Even as a nascent dramatic actress, she always had great screen presence; combined with experience, she became a riveting star in such films as Police Story III: Supercop and Wing Chun.

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon served as a great showcase for her skills but, as often happens with Asian actors and other people of color, the opportunities in Hollywood were few and far between. (Shameful confession: Also, I haven’t seen everything she’s done in recent years.) So it’s wonderful to see her in Crazy Rich Asians in a role that enables her to demonstrate her absolutely fierce moral fiber. She is not concerned whether you like her or not; she’s aiming to be true to her character, and it struck a chill of recognition down my spine.

Between Wu and Yeoh, director Jon M. Chu fills the screen with more than enough eye candy and other visual treats to keep the senses occupied. Gemma Chan counters the comedy with a more serious storyline, as Astrid, a woman struggling to keep her marriage together, and there are delightful comic turns, especially by Awkwafina as a longtime friend, along with Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, and Ken Jeong supplying broader humor aplenty. Sonoya Mizuno and Harry Shum Jr. adroitly balance comedy and drama in their roles.

Even as the fizz dissipates, director Chu makes sure the pace never flags appreciably. Crazy Rich Asians is a marvel of sorts, because it makes it possible even for militantly non-rom-com people like me to let down our guard and enjoy a little illusion of love.

The film is now playing in theaters throughout Dallas and Fort Worth.