If there’s one thing you can’t accuse Crazy Rich Asians of, it’s not delivering on its title. This is a celebration of extravagant wealth so bright and sugary that it’ll give you a toothache, and how much mileage you can get out of the film will really end up depending on how much unchecked financial privilege you can stomach. Jon M Chu’s film is an important step forward for Hollywood in terms of representation, and really the opinion of a white guy is irrelevant, especially when it’s already made over $150 million in the US. Yet Crazy Rich Asians’s total glorification of the 1% of the 1% makes it hard to feel warmly towards.
Our protagonist, at least, does not belong to this exclusive club. Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), is a self-made economics professor in New York whose boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) invites her to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding. What he hasn’t told her is that he is essentially royalty, his family owning most of the real estate in the city, and Rachel swiftly has to adjust to both the opulence of Nick’s lifestyle and the elitist, traditionalist attitudes of his domineering mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
For the first half in particular, the bottomless wells of money possessed by the Young family are fawned over to a grotesque degree. The lavish design is undeniably pretty, but this really doesn’t feel like the moment to be lauding this kind of wealth, especially when it doesn’t seem like anyone in the family is using their money for any sort of progressive good. Apparently, Kevin Kwan’s original novel is more of an Austen-esque satire, but Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim’s adaptation takes the brilliance of inherited fortunes at face value. Even the central conflict – that Nick’s mother disapproves of Rachel – is driven by the fact that she is a foreign, American outsider, not that she’s excluded by her financial status.
Wu and Golding have good chemistry, and they certainly make for a watchable big screen couple. Crazy Rich Asians is an energetic ride of a film, never stopping long enough for you to get bored, though it is certainly balanced more heavily towards the rom than the com in its genre. The main characters are never really allowed to be funny, and the side characters who are, like Jimmy O Yang as an unrepentant tool of a groomsman, lack the screen time they deserve.
Crazy Rich Asians is undeniably an important film and its massive box office success proves that audiences are not only hungry for more diverse movies, but also for old-school, glitzy romcoms to make a return. If it paves the way for more varied Asian American stories, then it will have achieved a hugely commendable goal, but as a standalone film it’s uncomfortable in its willingness to ignore the social evils wrought by exactly the kind of people that it glamorises so gleefully.