Potential spoilers ahead! You’ve been warned!
I must confess something, I haven’t read Crazy Rich Asians before stepping into the cinema so all I had going for me was the very basic idea of “oh, so this is going to be about Asians who are crazy and rich”.
Turns out that was exactly what the movie was about. Initially anyway.
The story is pretty simple and revolves around the protagonist, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, who is an utter delight) meeting the family of her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), for the first time, only to be blindsided by the fact that he and his family are so rich they would make Scrooge McDuck look like a hobo.
Crazy Rich Asians unfolds like a by-the-books romantic-comedy, so expect the usual platter of tropes, like Rachel being a fish out of water and the immediate disapproval of her by Nick’s family, particularly from his mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, who is cold as ice in the best way possible).
There’s nothing too left field here and those expecting wild plot twists will be disappointed because Crazy Rich Asians is as predictable as the sun rising up every morning.
But to my genuine surprise, buried under all the cheesy rom-com dressing was a surprisingly interesting look into Asian familial and immigrant culture.
Nick’s family isn’t disapproving of Rachel because of her as a person. They don’t like her because she isn’t “rich” and having her marry Nick would “tarnish” the family name.
Upholding the family name is something older Asians value heavily, to the point where familial relationships descend towards the odd and dysfunctional. The all-star Asian cast of Crazy Rich Asians are basically human representations of how these relationships manifest in its various guises.
Nick doesn’t care about the family name or wealth because he just wants to be with Rachel; Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) follows her family’s wishes at the expense of her own happiness; and the family’s various male members all slot somewhere in between Nick and Astrid as volatile mixtures of crazy, rich, and unhappy.
Having Rachel as a protagonist also offers up a counterpoint to the old-school Asian train of thought expressed by Nick’s family. Unlike her boyfriend, Rachel comes from a working class family which consists of only herself and her loving mother.
Rachel is a character whom second-generation Asians and audiences of a non-Asian background can relate to during all the unfamiliar settings. She basically personifies the saying “we’re not so different, you and I” and is a perfect audience surrogate throughout Crazy Rich Asians.
But beyond the deep dive into Asian and immigrant culture, I am also genuinely surprised at how the film was presented to a mainstream audience. Asian-centric films are generally marketed in Hollywood as “look at this big movie fronted by an Asian!”. By contrast, Crazy Rich Asians was plugged as “it’s a rom-com! Oh and there are Asians in it as well.”
By doing something completely unrevolutionary – i.e exactly the same for any other rom-com – Crazy Rich Asians did something revolutionary by Trojan Horsing in some unfamiliar themes into a mainstream movie for everyday audiences.
The fact that Crazy Rich Asians attempts to squeeze such an interesting take about Asian familial culture into a typical rom-com is a little odd, but it makes some pretty good sense.
Asians may live all over the globe but not everyone completely understands Asian culture. Wrapping Crazy Rich Asians up in a warm, mainstream rom-com blanket that everyone is familiar with is perhaps the best way to give audiences a crash course on the topic.
This is why I’m perfectly okay with Crazy Rich Asians being a by-the-numbers rom-com because it at least had something interesting to say. Plus everyone is mega good-looking which is always a bonus.
Crazy Rich Asians is ultimately a movie that anyone of any culture can enjoy. There’s something for older Asians, immigrants, and second-generation Asians to relate to, and there’s also stuff that mainstream audiences can recognise.
The rom-com formula caters to everyone who doesn’t care that the film isn’t the next Citizen Kane and simply wants to have a fun time.
And what a fun time it is.