Crazy Rich Asians: “It’s excessively entertaining”

by Shane Dillon
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So at last the chart-storming Crazy Rich Asians (Cert 12A, 121 mins) reaches Ireland, and release in this part of the world.

Actually, that’s a little bit misleading – the ‘at last’ part, as the film’s release date got moved forward once the buzz about the film really began to take off, with its US take at the box office crushing all and sundry around it.

One thing that’s not misleading is the title – here we have a whole group of people who are supremely, incomprehensibly, crazy rich, as well as a couple of characters who seem crazy and rich.

If you ever wanted a ‘Ronseal’ film, this is it, because you get exactly what the title promises, with the film having a central premise that sounds straight out of the Big Book O’ RomCom Cliches, but plays with such tropes like a virtuoso.

Rachel (Constance Wu) and her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding) are a couple of young, reasonably well to do professors in New York, with Rachel knowing little about Nick’s family other that most of them are in Singapore, where they’re ‘comfortably’ well off.

As things are getting serious between them, and with an important best friend’s wedding back home to go to, Rachel agrees to go along with him as Nick’s plus-one.
Cue the title’s relevance – their flight to and arrival at the tiny city nation state very quickly makes it clear that Nick’s rich.

Actually, he’s not just rich – he’s rrrrrrrrich, with his extended family fabulously, insanely, jaw-droppingly wealthy (meriting chucking on as many Rs as you’d like onto revealing their vast riches).

And as you might expect, this group of uber-elites (‘the 1% of the 1%’) aren’t often presented with a mere mortal of more earthly means suddenly on the loose within their gilded, diamonds-encrusted circle, with Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) particularly wary of some – pah – American girlfriend-slash-gold digger in their midst.

The scene is thus set for all kinds of culture clashes, with East-West divides colliding with a fish-out-of-water main scenario, as Rachel has to navigate these unfamiliar waters with an extended family watching her every move.

And in the meantime, there’s the all-important big wedding rumbling away in the background…

Much of the plot will be familiar to anyone who’s seen even a few RomComs, and it’s hard not to find some parts and characters cliched, from a disapproving mother (with her own quiet traumas) to a wise granny to similar standard characters and conventions.
However, the film certainly crafts its own identity, frequently turning the excess up to 11-plus and reveling in truly ostentatious wealth, and all its trappings, on display in much of the film.

That in itself presents a certain potential problem, given the general disdain that rich people are regarded with on this side of the world, these days – tasking Rachel’s character as the key to not just bring the audience into an alien cultural and economic landscape, but to also humanise the kind of people who’d casually blow a million bucks on just another pair of earrings.

In this, the film succeeds, with the staggering wealth present in much of the film eventually taking a back seat to the characters inhabiting this gilded world, with director Jon M Chu succeeding in establishing relatable, accessible characters.
Their wealth is undeniably a huge part of their lives, but Chu, and the actors, manage to ultimately present them as people and characters you could relate to and root for even if you stripped all the bling away.

Without wanting to patronise the film, it’s also about damn time that Asian characters took centre stage in a big-budget Western film, rather than being relegated to the usual thankless, cliched characters and rote roles that Asians are typically given in most American and similar films (although there’s a pinch of that here, too).

And with the penny dropping in Hollywood that there’s a market for this kind of fare and a more diverse casting approach, it’s likely that we’ll get More Crazy Rich Asians down the road.

Ultimately, the film hits some great romcom highs, has an identity that’s somewhat unique, and is well worth investing your time and interest in.
Verdict: 8/10

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