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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Sep 10, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians Movie Review: An Entertaining Romcom & A Significant Turning Point For Representation Of Asians In Hollywood Films

CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a significant turning point for representation of Asians in Hollywood films and shows that a movie starring Asians only can do exceedingly well at the box office, just like what “Black Panther” and Wakanda did for blacks. Asians are usually given supporting roles as friends of the white lead stars in Hollywood projects. In this film, all lead and supporting roles are played by Asians.

Kevin Kwan, the book’s author, gambled when he turned down a big offer from Netflix as he prefers to see his story on the big screen. A modern fairy tale and chick flick that echoes “Cinderella” and “Pretty Woman”, it works because of a lovable main character, Rachel (Constance Wu of the TV show “Fresh off the Boat”), an Asian American from humble beginnings who now works as an economics professors in New York. We really root for her.

Her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding, a British-Malaysian who hosted a travel show on BBC), asks her to join him to travel to Singapore to attend the wedding of his friend Colin (Chris Pang) where he will be the best man. Rachel agrees as the trip will give her the chance to visit her old college roommate, Peik Lin Goh (the scene-stealing Awkwafina of “Ocean’s 8”). There, she discovers that Nick actually comes from a stinkin’ rich family and she’s thrown into the company of some Crazy Rich Asians.

Director Jon M. Chu (“Now You See Me 2”) quickly establishes how rich and powerful Nick’s family is in a prologue set in London 20 years ago. It establishes Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), Nick’s steely mom, as someone you don’t want to mess up with.

Then we’re given a glimpse of what Rachel will be up against when a social media influencer takes a stolen of shot Rachel and Nick eating cake and posts it on instagram. It quickly goes viral, with everyone speculating on who the girl with Nick Young could be. It quickly reaches Eleanor in Singapore who’s having a Bible study with her group of other crazy rich matrons. Eleanor quickly calls up Nick to tell him that there’s no room for his girlfriend in their family’s home.

On the way to Singapore, Rachel is surprised that they’re not just flying first class but they have their own private suite from the U.S. to Singapore. She is awed that the free pajamas given by the airline are even better than the ones she has at home. We are then given a preview of the Nick’s other relatives.

There’s his cousin, Alistair (Remy Hill), who’s in love with a cheap sexy actress, Kitty Pong (Fiona Xie). Another cousin is rich businessman Edison (Ronnie Cheng) who treats his wife like a doormat. The only one Rachel has met is the beautiful Astrid (Gemma Chan of TV shows “Humans”, “Secret Diary of a Call Girl”), who’s unhappily married to a commoner who turns out to be cheating on her.

At the airport, they are met by Colin and his bride, Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno), who give Rachel a warm welcome by taking her to taste Singapore’s famous street food at the night market. The next morning, she goes to Peik Lin’s home and she is awed by their tawdry gaudy noveau riche home inspired by Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors. But Peik Lin and family get a bigger surprise when they learn that her boyfriend is Nick Young, Singapore’s most sought after bachelor. Soon, Rachel is thrown into the lion’s den and has to navigate very hostile territory where the knives are out to bully her. Since she’s raised in America, she’s called a banana, yellow on the outside but white in the inside.

Singapore is explored to the hilt, showing off the beautiful Marina Bay Sands, a hotel casino with its awesome infinity pool; the Langkawi Island and Gardens by the Bay nature park, and other lavish locations and sights, making Singapore very First World compared to Manila. The production design is just fabulous, like a supertanker in the middle of the ocean that is turned into a party place for a stag party, and the fantastic wedding scene with orchids, an underwater wedding aisle complete with fake butterflies. Various haute couture designers are featured from Dior to Stella McCartney and Marchesa.

Some folks wish the movie got a better looking Chinese actress than Constance Wu who’s so flat chested, but we actually find her very charming and very likeable on screen. She’s the eldest member of the lead cast at 36. Gemma is 35 and Harry is only 31. But she’s one feisty heroine who successfully combines graciousness and righteous anger, never bowing down. Our heart goes to her completely in that climactic and elegantly executed mahjong scene with Michelle Yeoh, which is a homage to “The Joy Luck Club”, the first Hollywood casting Asians in the lead roles. You may not know how to play mahjong but you can easily grasp that it’s turned into a power play between Rachel and Eleanor, with a wonderful pay off later where we see Eleanor tacitly accepting Rachel into their family.

Harry Golding is perfectly cast as a contemporary prince who knows how to assert his own right against his very controlling mother. Filipino actor Nico Santos is also notable as the family factotum, Oliver, stealing scenes effortlessly along with Awkwafina. Kris Aquino acquits herself well as Princess Intan, another very rich character who helps out Rachel from being marginalized during the ostentatious wedding scene.

The end credits shows Astrid finding new romance in Harry Shum (of “Glee”), who’s given topbilling but appears very briefly only in this scene. It’s so apparent that he’ll be Astrid’s new love interest in the upcoming sequel. Gemma Chan gives Astrid so much emotional heft as a wealthy woman who tries to hide her self in favor of her bitter husband, Michael (Pierre Png). This is seen in that antique pair of ruby-emerald-pearl earrings she bought for herself only to hide them in her bathroom. Chan’s performance is layered with regal grace and touching vulnerability.

Michelle Yeoh brings such cool dignity and icy power to her role as Eleanor. She isn’t just a tiger mom for no reason. She just wants what she thinks is best for her son, even if she herself had her own struggles and was a victim of her own mother in law before, so we understand where she’s coming from. Rachel and Eleanor are the key figures in making the movie both funny and smart, dramatic and also melodramatic, a winning fantastic romantic comedy with universal appeal that comes at a time when romcoms seem to be losing steam.
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