When Kevin Kwan set out to write his first novel, he first wrote a single word -- "joy" -- on a Post-it note and stuck it to his laptop screen. ("I wanted to do something that just brings me pure joy, but also bring other people joy," he recently told Vulture.) He found inspiration in his own childhood in Singapore and the wealthy banking family he descended from, ultimately penning the best-selling Crazy Rich Asians.
The film adaptation, out Aug. 15, remains largely faithful to Kwan's source material: A Chinese-American professor, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), is invited to Singapore to finally meet the family of her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). What Rachel comes to learn -- after a year of Nick gyming at the local YMCA and stealing her Netflix password -- is that he is secretly the heir to the oligarchical Young dynasty, set to inherit one of Asia's largest fortunes. That crazy richness turns to rich, soapy craziness as Rachel fights to fit in, fending off conniving would-be suitresses and facing the iron matriarch of the Young family, Nick's disapproving mother Eleanor (the incomparable Michelle Yeoh).
Crazy Rich Asians is notable for being the first major Hollywood production in 25 years to feature a cast comprised predominantly of Asian actors. (The next most recent such film was 1993's The Joy Luck Club.) The importance of that representation -- of seeing yourself represented onscreen, or likely a version of yourself with far more walking-around money -- should not be understated, nor should the fact that it shows nuanced diversity within the diversity. (Rachel may look Chinese and speak Mandarin, her mother tells her, but as an Asian-American, she "is different.") In that regard, Wu hopes Crazy Rich Asians is part of a "movement."
But also, it's just a great movie. (Which is not to say white people haven't made pleeeenty of bad movies and been given the chance to make more. One film should not bear the burden of an entire group of people.) It is a rom-com that fulfills its promise of comedy and romance, which happens less often than you might think. (In that it centers on a regular-ish woman raised by a single mother being whisked off into royalty adjacent, it also has shades of Meghan Markle's romance to Prince Harry, and we collectively fawned over those two with bated breath.) (Plus Rachel's extended family isn't trash.) It is a fish out of water story, if the fish were taken from the water to an infinity pool filled with gold-flaked champagne.
I was as transported, as in awe of the opulence of Singapore as Rachel is, the gleam of the city captured by director Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) in all its glistening, glittering glory. Aesthetically, the entire film is beyond appealing: The far-flung locales -- stately manors and blossoming gardens and white sand beaches -- are perfectly picturesque. The dishes -- homemade dumplings and sizzling plates of meats -- are mouth-wateringly delicious. The gratuitous topless men had me fanning myself. If there is anything more beautiful than the city, it is this cast. (Seriously, not a single person in the movie isn't ridiculously good-looking.)
Wu sparkles onscreen, warm and bright, while Golding, in his first-ever film role, cements himself as a bona fide movie star. I loved meeting every cousin, every auntie: Fierce Eleanor -- God, is it fun watching Yeoh menace; Rachel's college pal Peik Lin (played by Awkwafina, a genius clown), perfectly paired with Nico Santos' "rainbow sheep" of the Young family. Koh Chieng Mun is a giddily good time as Peik Lin's nouveau riche mom, while Ken Jeong is a hoot chiding his daughters at dinner, "Children in America are starving!" I fell, particularly, for Astrid, Nick's stoic, soulful cousin played by Gemma Chan. Because the film rotates around Rachel and doesn't showcase as many points of view as Kwan's novel does, the Astrid storyline can feel somewhat tangential at times, but Chan is so good, it hardly matters.
I suppose that's a fairly middling critique to have. In truth, I could not stop beaming the entire movie. Crazy Rich Asians is just so vibrant and playful, so lovely and deliciously melodramatic and, yes, so full of joy.
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