In ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ mahjong isn’t just a game

Lewis Collier
August 19, 2018

In Crazy Rich Asians, we get a look at the culture of old money in Singapore, and the differences between what people want for their children in different cultures. It's an incredible, moving, and hilarious film that is just as rich in details and clever social satire as Kevin Kwan's 2013 best-selling novel of the same name. Crazy Rich Asians may be steeped in Asian cultures, but it satisfies that very American pastime of simultaneously deriding and ogling the conspicuous consumption of the one-percent, and it gets some wickedly amusing jabs in at the fabulously wealthy. It's also an experience - of lavish food, culture, interiors, fashion, and Singapore itself.

Still, maybe you're wondering what the movie is about and why it's getting so much buzz. Rachel and Nick might be on the movie poster, but when you see their friends and family rally around them, that's where the magic happens. In an interview with Glamour magazine, the actor explained that his background is in broadcast television - he worked as a travel host for BBC, Discovery and National Geographic - and he owes his newfound acting career to an accountant who worked on "Crazy Rich Asians". There were laughs, of course, but there weren't almost as many reactions coming from an audience of critics as there were weeks later at a sold-out screening I attended. Having said that, it's also a genial enough movie to (mostly) overlook those considerations, or at least breeze past them with frequently arresting splashes of primary color and a sense of breathless editorial verve. "We took our time and you see the results on the screen".

In the film, the best romantic comedy in years, New Yorker Rachel (Constance Wu) is dating Nick (Henry Golding), who is a member of one of the richest families in Singapore, if not the world. There are a few things Nick hasn't told Rachel.

Left to right: Henry Golding as Nick and Constance Wu as Rachel in Warner Bros.

Though screenwriters Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim take some narrative departures to make the story tighter, the movie follows the book's story quite religiously.

Nick has marriage on the mind, whisking her off to his friend's wedding and to meet his folks, only for Rachel to find out his family are "richer than God". Yeoh is devastating as Nick's judgmental mother. The other, and far more arresting pageant, is of the film's Asian cast of various nationalities who, one after another, shame Hollywood's regular disinterest in them by being so effortlessly dazzling.

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While Awkwafina claims she didn't really have any Asian or Asian-American role models in the industry to look up to when she was a kid, she revealed that seeing Margaret Cho perform on Comedy Central for the first time was akin to discovering "a unicorn". Crazy Rich Asians is populated with a massive ensemble of comic characters, gorgeous gold-diggers, and hot-bodied heartthrobs. Everyone involved in this film had the time of their lives filming it, and that joy shows in every frame.

The sets, costumes and locations are stunning.

"Crazy Rich Asians" ignores many tropes set for rom-coms. It's a tension that some of us have spent years grappling with, but seeing and hearing it in an American movie feels close to revelatory. This family's culture does not exist simply in relationship to most Americans' way of life.

Jimmy O. Yang from "Silicon Valley" is also in the movie. She sees everyone. She sees everyone in just the best way possible and when people see you in the best way possible you want to give the best you have inside you. It soon becomes clear that the only thing crazier than love is family, in this amusing and romantic story sure to ring true for audiences everywhere.

Also undeniable? The mounting cultural expectations for "Crazy Rich Asians", but Santos said the project shouldn't have to be ideal.

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