First Hit: There are some very funny bits in this revealing film about Crazy Rich Asians.
Having dated a number of Asian women, I’ve experienced some of the familial ties as represented in this film. The closeness, nepotism, and sacrifice in business and family situations is difficult to fully comprehend by an outsider. The cultural differences are part of this film’s attraction. Adding social and financial differences within the Asian community only adds to the insight and delight.
The film sets up the Young family as wealthy and ruthless in the first scene. It opens with a young Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) entering a swanky hotel with her two young children (Nick and Astrid) and her mother. They have reservations for the biggest and best suite in the luxurious hotel. However, because they walked in wet from a pouring rain and the kids had muddy feet, the snooty desk staff felt they weren’t really the type of people they wanted in the hotel. Refusing them their reserved room, and suggesting a room in Chinatown, Eleanor calls her husband who immediately buys the hotel. Walking back into the lobby, the current owner pops out the elevator and tells the staff that the hotel is now owned by the Youngs. The now sufficiently humbled staff get them checked into the hotel immediately.
This is a wonderful setup to show racism, the power of money, and how family ties can make something work.
The film moves forward in time about 25 years and we meet Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a gaming theory economics professor, teaching her class about confidence through a poker demonstration she had in class. Rachel was raised by her single mother Kerri (Kheng Hua Tan) who worked multiple jobs to sacrifice her life for her child’s education and wellbeing.
Rachel’s boyfriend is Nick Young (Henry Golding) who was the young boy in the opening hotel sequence and who went to school with Rachel and hasn’t told her about his family’s wealth which has now blossomed to be the wealthiest family in all of Asia.
Nick wants to bring Rachel home to meet his family while he serves as best man for his best friend’s wedding. The wedding is in his home country of Singapore. What makes this an easy decision for Rachel to join him is that her best friend from college, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), lives in Singapore and Rachel will get to visit her.
Getting on the plane, Rachel expects to eat what her mother packed for snacks and sitt in the crowded economy section. However, Nick and her are ushered to a private first class room at the front of the plane and this is when he explains to Rachel his family is wealthy.
The rest of the film shows an overindulgence of rich Asian families. For instance, Peik, who comes from a wealthy family of her own, drives Rachel to the Young family compound in a Audi R8 sports car. Remaining outings in cars feature Bentley and Rolls Royce cars. The parties are over the top extravagant and beyond the means of 99% of the population, including the bachelor party where everyone is flown out to a huge container ship, tricked out as a huge disco, in helicopters. The maid of honor party is the take over of an entire island and it's resort facilities where they shop, get massages, and party.
The heart of the family rejection of Rachel is Nick's mom Eleanor who doesn’t think Rachel is good enough for her boy, although Eleanor’s mother Ah Ma (Lisa Lu) likes her and her “auspicious nose.” Many of Eleanor’s friends participate in the hating of Rachel, and that is only part of the problem. There are many girls in Singapore that want to be hooked up with the very eligible and rich Nick, so most of young girls despise Rachel as well and think she is just a gold digger.
With these plot devices, the story is filled with comic opportunities and the director takes advantage of this. The romantic part of the film is a test of Nick and Rachel’s love for each other along with Rachel’s ability to own her power.
Wu was wonderful as Rachel. She showed the right kind of strength of character to make this role work. Awkwafina was hilarious as Rachel’s best friend. I loved how she kept specific outfits in her car for all occasions. Golding was strong as Nick. He embodied humbleness and his position of wealth is an elegantly. Yeoh was outstanding as Nick’s protective mother. Some of her steely looks were perfect. A priceless scene was when she and Rachel played a round of Mahjong. The intensity and pointed dialogue was executed by both Wu and Yeoh was spot on. Tan was great as Rachel's mom. Lu was wonderful as the matriarch of the family. Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim wrote a poignant and culturally pointed screenplay. Jon M. Chu did a wonderful job of keeping the film both light hearted and well intentioned through all the scenes.
Overall: This somewhat tongue-in-cheek film has some great comedic and heartfelt moments.