Asians go mainstream Hollywood amid the setting of snobbery and luxury

Community News & Features Aug 24, 2018 at 4:18 pm

Crazy-Rich-AsiansFILM REVIEW: Crazy Rich Asians

By Irish Mae Silvestre
The Philippine Reporter

With all the frenzy surrounding the movie, ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is akin to a child at a piano recital playing for a room of anxious parents: you only get one shot so you’d better make it count.

The film, directed by Jon M. Chu (‘Now You See Me 2’) is fast-paced enough to help you forget that it’s the only movie in a long time to feature a diverse cast of Asian actors. You also almost forget the fact that, apart from ‘The Joy Luck Club,’ this might be the first Asian movie to come out of Hollywood that doesn’t portray us as nerds, ninjas or geishas.

While the movie, based on the Kevin Kwan novel, doesn’t push the envelope as far as romantic comedies go, it is nonetheless self-deprecating, charming and provides custom Hermès bags of entertainment.

The story revolves around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding). The two are very happy and very much in love which, when shown so early on in a movie, never bodes well for lovers.

True enough, during an amusing sequence where Nick is spotted by an acquaintance, the international gossip mill goes into overdrive as people try to find out more about the mysterious Rachel.

Nick invites Rachel to travel to Singapore with him for his friend Colin Khoo’s (Chris Pang) wedding to Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizuno), the country’s “wedding of the century.” Little does Rachel know that she’s not only dating Singapore’s wealthiest and most eligible bachelor, but that her presence is about to ruffle some feathers.

We’re soon introduced to Nick’s cousins and friends: Astrid Young Teo (Gemma Chan), the most glamorous woman in Singapore, Eddie Cheng (Ronnie Chieng) the image-conscious private banker, and Bernard Tai (Jimmy O. Young), who throws the most over-the-top bachelor party on a barge in the middle of the ocean.

And then there’s Nick’s mother, Eleanor Young (played by the brilliant Michelle Yeoh) who’s a doting mother to her son but an ice queen to anyone she deems a threat to her family.

On Rachel’s side is Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina), her quirky and outspoken friend from university, who gives Rachel the lay of the land, explaining the “who’s who” of Singaporean aristocracy.

Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Kris Aquino cameo, which was much publicized by Aquino herself on social media. But when it comes to Filipinos representing onscreen, I much preferred the hilarious Filipino-American Nico Santos who plays Oliver T’sien, the “poor” and flamboyant cousin and the self-described “rainbow sheep” of the family who often does the bidding of his demanding aunties.

The cinematography by Vanja Cernjul (Netflix’s ‘Marco Polo’) is a visual feast. The interior of Tyersall Park (the mansion owned by Nick’s grandma, the family matriarch) whispers wealth with its jade walls, silk wallpaper, antique furniture and lush gardens. Meanwhile, with its baroque furniture and gaudy gold interiors inspired by the Versailles, the Goh family home screams new money.

With several shots of Marina Bay Sands and the Merlion fountain, the movie is essentially a love letter to Singapore. Scenes at Newton Food Centre showcase some of the city’s best street food with shots of steaming noodle dishes and cramped food stalls.

The music, a team effort between the director and Brian Tyler (Iron Man 3), is also a true east-meets-west fusion. There’s the perky Cantonese rendition of ‘Material Girl’ by Sally Yeh during a funny makeover scene, while Coldplay’s ‘Yellow,’ performed in Mandarin by Katherine Ho, is a perfect fit for the movie’s climax. It’s also a tongue-in-cheek reference to Rachel, whom Peik describes as a banana – yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

But amidst the snobbery, luxury resorts and designer clothes, the movie explores a myriad of conflicting topics: old versus new, love as duty versus passion. It was refreshing to finally see Asians being portrayed as whole, complex characters. And it took far too long for Asians to finally be so visible in the mainstream so here’s hoping that this is more than just a passing trend.