Crazy Rich Asians (2018)- Fun Future Classic

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) opened on August 15th to great fanfare. Based on Kevin Kwan's best-selling novel and starring Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, this movie follows a Chinese-American economics professor whose boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) takes her home to Singapore to meet his family and attend a wedding.

However, he has not told Rachel that he is the heir to a multi-million dollar fortune and part of an insular group with its own social mores. The tight-knit circle  prefers that Nick marry within the group and not date Rachel.

This leads to any number of faux pas, misunderstanding, backstabbing, and even gaslighting. You become attached to Rachel's story and wish to see her succeed. It is a classic tale of Cinderella-Meets-the-In-Laws that somehow feels fresh under the direction of Jon M. Chu.

And it is all done in great fashion and grand style.


via Vogue
You know in the old Douglas Sirk 1950s melodramas where beautiful people are in beautiful settings, yet it fits the narrative so you are not distracted from the story line? (See Imitation of Life (1959).)

Crazy Rich Asians does that as well . . . and with humor.

via The Culture Trip
The film is a feast for the eyes -from the colorfully crowded Newton Food Centre where Rachel and Nick first dine in Singapore, to the towering Marina Bay Sands Skypark with its oversized penthouse pool filled with synchronized swimmers. (See Condé Nast Traveler for a list of locations in the movie: Where Was 'Crazy Rich Asians' Filmed?)

via Color Web Magzine

The fashion is also a feast for the eyes as it tells the story of  new money, old money, and a professor on a much smaller budget. According to Mary Vogt, the costume designer, Rachel lives in a neutral-toned environment in gray, black, white, beige while in America.

via Color Web Magazine
When she visits Singapore, brilliant colors pop across the screen, and the fashion becomes more vibrant.  Nouveau riche wear brighter colors, families more accustomed to wealth wear relatively muted colors. (Read the Women's Wear Daily article interviewing the film's costume designer by clicking here.)


Nick's mother Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) is in the tradition of  fictional parents who exert an inordinate amount of sway over their adult child's life. [Compare Oscar Wilde's Lady Bracknell from the play The Importance of Being Earnest, Gus Portokalos in My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002), and Dr. Sloper in The Heiress (1949).]

In these stories, much of the plot rides on parental approval. This type of movie does not come often in American films these days, since the general accepted culture is that an adult offspring may live as he pleases (at least in theory).

But that is a central reason that Eleanor disdains Rachel - this young lady is!  The freedom to choose her own life is a mark against Nick's new girlfriend. Who knows? Next her own son might think for himself as well! This freedom is a threat to the family, a concept which is heavily played up in the film.  

In this film, a man will lose his entire family and fortune on the one hand, or lose his one true love on the other; he cannot make the wrong choice. You understand that his mother would never contact him again were he to marry this outsider. In that sense, Eleanor is like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof (1971) - willing to disown the adult offspring if he or she breaks tradition. It is that intense.

At the same time, the movie makes it clear that Eleanor is also a victim; she is abusive to Rachel because her own mother-in-law is abusive. Eleanor not only passes down to the next generation the splendor of Singapore and family love, she also passes along unbridled prejudice and meddling. She is further concerned that traditions may die within the next generation if Nick marries outside of the culture. She's a complicated lady.

All of this is not fully resolved to my satisfaction, so I am hoping for a sequel.


Every so often during the screening  you think, "Oh! This reminds me of that other film." In addition to the ones previously mentioned, Crazy Rich reminds me of the following films.

In one of the numerous parties in Singapore, Rachel goes out to the lawn to witness the spectacle of  a special blossoming plant. She links arms with her best friend Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina) and one of Nick's friendly relations Oliver T'sien (Nico Santos) as we discover that many people there know all about Nick's new girlfriend and are not happy about it.

There are shades of Thoroughly Modern Millie (1967) in that scene. Millie (Julie Andrews) walks out on the patio/lawn with Dorothy (Mary Tyler Moore) and Jimmy (James Fox) as they watch the spectacle of Muzzy (Carol Channing) singing a song. There are wealthy ladies at the party who had hoped to marry Jimmy but are too late since he is now in love with the relatively poor Millie Dillmount. They are not nice to her.

Another movie which comes to mind while watching Crazy Rich is An Affair to Remember (1957). Nick's grandmother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) gently tsks at her wayward grandson for not visiting her more often. However, she seems to love him and his new girlfriend. Similar scenes in An Affair also feature a leading man named Nick (Cary Grant), his grandmother wearing a shawl (Cathleen Nesbitt), and the new girlfriend (Deborah Kerr) in a light pink dress.

I thought, "Oh! Grandma is going to give Rachel a shawl like in An Affair to Remember!" She doesn't, but I desperately wanted it to happen.

Last but not least....
Flower Drum Song cast via JavaBeanRush

This film is noted for its cast of actors who are predominantly of Asian descent. This is a huge deal since, Hollywood - the town of otherwise great imagination and wondrous realms of possibility- rarely casts movies in this way, rarely tells these stories.  The last time such casting occurred was 25 years ago, according to the the New York Times (Click here to read the article), referring to The Joy Luck Club (1993). For this reason the new film is "a cinematic Halley’s comet," says the writer with pessimism, indicating that this casting and non-stereotypical story lines for actors of Asian descent are not likely to occur again for a while.

Reaching farther back we find the Rogers and Hammerstein classic Broadway musical, based on a  C. Y. Lee novel and later made into a movie- Flower Drum Song (1961)- which we have discussed here on Java's Journey before. It too has predominantly Asian casting.

Though it has flaws, Flower is a film that I grew up watching and wanting more, wanting even better stories. It shares themes with this more recent release, such as the stresses of identity for a 2nd generation Chinese-American and what it is like to live between the hyphen.

However, according to Professor Peter FengFlower Drum Song is simplistic in that neither generation understands the other or wants to have anything to do with the other. (There is an entire song about it.) In Flower, those born in one country do not assimilate and their children who are born in a different country want nothing to do with the past. Crazy Rich is  more nuanced - young people respect older traditions, and the older generation embraces modernity. Although Flower ages well enough for its time, Crazy Rich  takes us one step closer to a better direction for the themes of this type of story, and an expanded direction for storytelling in general in American movies.

In most of the reviews (including my review) you will find heavy themes, you will find many reviewers with anecdotes about what this film means for them personally as they struggle with how their identity is often not portrayed on film in the United States - a diverse country with plenty of stories to tell. When Asian characters are finally portrayed, they are often less than ideal -the comic foil (rarely the lead), the sidekick who gets killed off, the bespectacled sexless nerd, the dragon lady, dehumanized villains, wimpy villagers who need a savior of a different ethnicity to defend them, etc.

Noting all of this, the discussion of this film's place in cinematic history (as necessary as that is) should not overshadow the fact this is a lovely romantic comedy with charming leads, complicated antagonists, and lots of fun. Yes, know the history, but also enjoy it for itself; it's a good film that can stand on its own feet.

I recommend Crazy Rich Asians, not only as a future classic, but also as a fun, lavish, and thoughtful modern comedy.

Further Resources
Women's Wear Daily interview with Crazy Rich Asians costume designer Mary Vogt

Ithaca College Library - Portrayls of Asians in Film and Television 

Professor Peter Feng and others quoted in NBC News Article on Flower Drum Song


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