By: Zane Brumley
“Crazy Rich Asians,” directed by Jon M. Chu, is a wild ride of emotions as well as a layered film that talks about many cultural and familial issues. The film truly deserves that hype surrounding it. It does not feel like the everyday rom-com, but it also does not feel like it was made with a minority cast just for the sake of minorities. The film is relatable and powerful. One could say it is crazy rich, a winning combination for a romantic comedy.
To say the cast of “Crazy Rich Asians” is good would be a complete understatement. The talented ensemble leads the audience to fall in love with the characters. Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu) is a charismatic and fulfilling woman. Wu manages to bring a delightfully real performance of love, discomfort, and compassion. Her face tells all. Every expression provides a window into the character’s thoughts and emotions. Nick Young (Henry Golding) made for a charming foil to Rachel. Michelle Yeoh, who played Eleanor Sung-Young, was another excellent performer. Every mannerism of Yeoh’s offered a glimpse of her character’s personal struggle, from how she walked to how she smiled. These three are in the forefront of the film’s conflict which focuses on issues of family, sacrifice, and Asian culture.
The film subverts some of the tropes found in romantic comedies. Rachel Chu does not find herself looking for love or some big life change. Instead, she is depicted as having a comfortable life as a college professor with a boyfriend she loves. The real drama starts with the revelation of Nick’s family dynasty and how their lifestyle differs from the average Joe. Upon convincing Rachel to visit Singapore with him, Nick slowly eases her in on his lavish family life. In the
typical American world, a son having a girlfriend like Rachel Chu would be a huge win for a parent, but Eleanor simply will not have it. She is quick to dismiss Rachel from the get-go, yet she keeps a fake smile for the sake of her son. Rachel spots the disappointment quickly, but Nick tries his best to protect her. The love between Nick and Rachel is well conveyed through their actions and dialogue. They keep close together, with enough room for Jesus (most of the time), but there is an intimacy they exude in their performances. Throughout the film, they think about their future together, and the conflict stems from both considering what would work best for the other person when obstacles block their path.
One of the most enjoyable parts about the movie revolves around each of the character’s conflicts. Rachel’s struggle comes from her desire to be accepted by the Young family and trying to make it work for Nick’s sake. In the end, her decisions are made by what she determines is best for Nick. Both Nick and Rachel show a willingness to sacrifice for one another. The willingness to compromise in their relationship is a breath of fresh air from the often-depicted inflexible couples of recent films and television. The most ironic conflict can be found in Eleanor. Her first scene depicted in the modern day is of her leading a Bible study. The verse she started with was Ephesians 6:4, which commands parents to not exasperate their children and to raise them up in the Lord. Much of the film follows the struggle between Eleanor and her disapproval of Nick’s choice of partner. Eleanor loves her son dearly, although it is a selfish love, as she constantly mothers him despite him being a grown man.
The subject of Asian vs. Asian American cultures is prevalent in the film and makes it a standout from other films in the genre. This is set up early on when Rachel prepares for her trip to Singapore. Her mother warns her of the difference of cultures, though she swiftly dismisses her mother. Upon the first meeting of Rachel and Eleanor, there is a friction of cultural ideals.
Rachel talks about following her passions, which Eleanor denounces as “American.” There is a war of ideologies, where Rachel is more individualistic, and Eleanor is more familial. The Young dynasty is led by women, clever women, despite their faults. The grandmother is the matriarch, Eleanor is often by her side trying to win her approval, and Astrid (played by Gemma Chan) is distant in the story, but the parallels are there.
Another fantastic quality of the film comes from Vanja Cernjul’s cinematography. There are several moments where the shot composition is wonderful. A couple of the early scenes in the film when Rachel and Nick walk together through the first party are interesting because the camera follows behind as they stroll through the event. These scenes are always in one take with everything around the couple appearing busy or loud. Towards the end, there is a final confrontation between Rachel and Eleanor when they play a game of Mahjong. The camera focuses in on each of their hands and shows the hesitation of Rachel and then her decision to commit and beat Eleanor. The game is used to drive the idea home that Rachel wins and would leave on her own terms, not because the family was forcing her out.
There are so many powerful scenes in the film that make it easy to talk about. These scenes help the film stand apart from other romantic comedies. John M. Chu’s direction lends itself to the film. He managed to convey the opulence of the wealthy through a 1930s-esque aesthetic as well as through the unique characters that each entertain and add to the story in some way. Overall, “Crazy Rich Asians” is a must-see film that offers something for everyone, while starting several important conversations about culture and family.