crazy rich asians spoiler review

(In our Spoiler Reviews, we take a deep dive into a new release and get to the heart of what makes it tick…and every story point is up for discussion. In this entry: Crazy Rich Asians.)

“China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” That is the rather grandiose Napoleon Bonaparte proverb that Crazy Rich Asians opens with, setting the stage for a wild, escapist fantasy of a film that is both keenly aware and uncaring of the burden it carries. Crazy Rich Asians knows it presents a landmark moment for Asian-Americans in film, and right off the bat, it declares its intentions. It’s a weighty promise for Jon M. Chu’s romantic-comedy to live up to — but does it live up to it? Yes, and no.

On a barebones level, Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t quite shake the world. It’s a romantic-comedy that follows a standard meet-the-parents set-up, with an outrageously wealthy twist. But add in the all-Asian cast and Asian-American heroine, and you’ve got something revolutionary.

Like the hit YA coming-out film Love Simon earlier this year, Crazy Rich Asians feels miraculous because it is so normal. (Well, as normal as billion-dollar designer purses and jet-setting lifestyles can be on the big screen.) Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t treat its subjects like exotic curios or tragic ciphers, but like typical characters in a romantic-comedy. The genre — once so familiar to cinemas, but now a rare entity — provides an easy access point for general audiences, while allowing Asian-Americans to see themselves on the big screen as more than just the quirky supporting character or emasculated goon.

But more important to Crazy Rich Asians than being the paragon of Asian-American representation is that it is just goddamn entertaining. Just as Crazy Rich Asians wears its intentions on its sleeves, so does it wear its rom-com influences — Chu throws in nods to everything from Devil Wears Prada, to Pride and Prejudice, to Korean soap operas. The film becomes a hodgepodge of rom-com tropes that sometimes comes off as frenetic, but in the end only creates a fuller, richer experience. For an Asian-American rom-com lover like me, watching the movie was like biting into an ice cream sandwich and finding a delicious caramel center — I get the best of my favorite genre in a story about people who look like me.

A Cinderella Story

Constance Wu’s Rachel Chu is the perfect Everywoman. An accomplished NYU economics professor who Wu infuses with a self-aware charm, you can see just how grounded she is in her mom’s tupperware lunches that she packs for the plane ride to Singapore with her dreamy boyfriend Nick Young (a blandly engaging Henry Golding), and in the jokes she makes about JFK being filled with “salmonella and despair.” Rachel is an average Chinese-American who has never been further East than Queens, and it’s easy to see her story — of a scrappy, daughter of an immigrant who is suddenly thrust into a world of immense riches — as a sort of Cinderella story. But the prince at the end of the story is ultimately tertiary to Rachel’s actual arc of self-actualization.

The film smartly kicks off Rachel’s story not by showing her Everywoman charms, but her smarts. She’s an expert in game theory, which she proves when she easily bests her TA in a game of poker at her NYU lecture hall. Because while Crazy Rich Asians delights in pushing Cinderella fairy tale imagery, the film itself is more of a cat-and-mouse game between Rachel and Nick’s disapproving mother, Eleanor (a spectacular Michelle Yeoh).

Eleanor cuts an intimidating figure right from the beginning of the film, but is never situated as the outright villain. Her introductory flashback, set in 1995, is the only time the film features white characters in speaking roles and, not inconsequentially, is the only scene in the film that deals with racism against Asians. Wet and bedraggled, Eleanor is sneered at by a group of British hotel managers who deny her the right to stay in her suite, suggesting that her family explore Chinatown instead. Seething with elegant rage, Eleanor manages a coup: calling her husband, who buys ownership of the hotel, allowing her to utterly humiliate the managers. It’s a moment of righteous vindication that speaks volumes — endearing us to Eleanor’s plight while at the same time establishing her as a fierce woman who has a reason for being suspicious of Westerners. Enter Rachel.

Arriving in Singapore wide-eyed and newly aware of her boyfriend’s secret wealthy family, Rachel is still completely unsuspecting of the bloodbath she is about to enter. Unfortunately, Crazy Rich Asians seems reluctant to get to the meat of the movie, slowly setting us up for the grand reveal of Nick’s awesome wealth. But we do get a lot of actual meat — Chu turns a loving eye toward the delectable street food of Singapore, which Nick, his friend Colin Khoo (Chris Pang), and Colin’s bubbly bride-to-be Araminta (a winning Sonoya Mizuno) take Rachel on a whirlwind tour of. It’s telling that this sequence is granted as much flamboyance as Chu’s overtures toward haute couture — because in the world of the wealthy Singaporean elite, food and fashion are equally important.

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