Updated: Feb 26, 2020
Crazy Rich Asians is unlike any chick flick I’ve seen before. Sure, it has your basic boy-meets-girl formula, but the film achieves so much more than creating a sappy, yet entertaining love story. The film dives deep into cultural nuances that impact those growing up multi-cultural, yet these often-woeful experiences are offset by the impeccable, opulent, and aesthetically pleasing backdrop of beautiful Singapore.
We are introduced to Eleanor Young, the male love interest’s mother and matriarch to one of the richest families in Singapore. Immediately, we are drawn in by her power play as she is turned away on a cold, stormy night by a hotel manager who has no idea that the woman he is brushing off happens to not only be a member of an incredibly power family, but is also now the new owner of the very hotel he is running. Her quiet confidence as she handles the manager’s rejection and subsequently makes her power move not only leaves him in shock, but is an early sign of the formidable opponent she will be throughout the film.
Eleanor’s power is juxtaposed with the protagonist, Rachel Chu’s, power play as she engages in a game of poker. As viewers, the stage has been immediately set for us as we witness two women from opposing class levels who match one another in self-assurance and poise. I absolutely love how we get a glimpse into both women’s strengths relevant to the world they each live in.
When Nick Young whisks Rachel away to Singapore to attend a friend’s wedding, she still has no idea what she’s walking into, as he has been very secretive about his family’s extreme wealth. It’s not until her best friend, the hilarious Goh Peik Lin, gives her the rundown on the Young family that she understands the situation she is in. This is when the story really picks up, as we not only experience the age-old classist tale, but we witness the rarely told predicaments of immigrant children who return to the mother land, and we also witness a story many women know too well, that of women tearing each other down out of jealousy, rather than building one another up.
Rachel was born in China, but her mother immigrated to the US when she was a child. Although she speaks Mandarin, her pronunciation is a bit weak and her accent is obviously Americanized, much to the displeasure of Eleanor. This is the story that a lot of children of immigrants won’t tell you. They may not fit into the country they move to, but they don’t always fit into the country they’re originally from either. They feel a connection to both countries but they’re never fully accepted by either one. It’s an interesting dynamic and one that I can wholeheartedly relate to. I rarely see mainstream movies, specifically lighthearted chick flicks, touch on this point, but Crazy Rich Asians did so beautifully.
Rachel also has to deal with the ex-girlfriend. Yes, this is one story that almost all women can relate to. The ex who still holds a candle for your significant other. The ex whose jealousy drives them to poke holes in your self-confidence in hopes of creating enough self-doubt to drive you away. It’s a timeless tactic born from an unavoidable human tendency towards the green-eyed monster, but in suffering there is always hope. Amidst the challenges that Rachel faces with some of the women she encounters, Nick’s beautiful, fashionable, and kind cousin Astrid, along with Goh, serve as beacons of hope and portraits of how women should treat one another. Both Astrid and Goh remain an uplifting presence throughout the entirety of the film and viewers are reminded that for all the negativity we encounter, there is always good to be found.
In quintessential Cinderella fashion, there is the classic “makeover” scene, satisfying chick flick fans all over the world. Rachel even wears Cinderella blue for her big moment as she walks into the wedding, stunning everyone, including Eleanor. This scene comes after her best friend makes her realize that she is not some “nobody” who’s coming into a rich family. She’s a brilliant professor at a top university. She’s beautiful, she’s kind, and she is a force to be reckoned with. In a moment of reflection and encouragement, Rachel realizes that Nick is also lucky to be with her, and while the Young family may have more means than she has, there is a lot they could learn from her and a lot she could bring to their family.
As Rachel finds her confidence again, people around her begin to react. Before the wedding, Eleanor makes a rude comment to her in an attempt to break her down out of fear of her growing strength and resistance, but as she walks away, one of Eleanor’s friends whispers how much she loves Rachel’s dress. In this moment, we see another woman building Rachel up in secret, and we are painfully reminded that followers merely mimic the leader. They may not even believe the hate they spew, but they’re not strong enough to stand on their own, and often times, they’d rather be behind the bully and the target of one. It takes nothing to be a follower, but it takes everything to stand alone, so don’t take it to heart when you’re singled out. You’re probably doing something very right, and that can be very intimidating.
Rachel Chu is clever, and once she is comfortable, you see her natural sass, intuition, and wit come out. She doesn’t lash out when people are rude to her, not because she couldn’t destroy them with one quick, soul-crushing, sentence, but because she chooses to rise above, to be better than her bullies. Her kindness and good nature are what stands out to Nick, but these traits are also what infuriate her opponents. In the end; however, her good nature is what helps her win, but don’t mistake her goodness for weakness. By the end of the film, we experience her growth and witness a newfound strength in a power play scene that brings us back to the beginning, except now the game is directly between the two women in Nick’s life, Rachel and Eleanor.
As Rachel and Eleanor engage in a game of mahjong, Rachel explains that she is bowing out, not because she’s too weak to handle whatever hell Eleanor wishes to throw at her, but because she loves Nick too much to allow a rift between he and his mother. In a powerful moment, she tells Eleanor;
“One day, when he marries another lucky girl who is enough for you,
and you’re playing with your grandkids while the Tan Hua’s are blooming,
and the birds are chirping, that it was because of me:
a poor, raised by a single mother, low class, immigrant nobody.”
And with that, she wins the game, she wins the moment, and she wins it all.
Again, we are given juxtaposition with another moment of strength, this time with Astrid. Throughout the film, we watch her philandering husband tear her down because of his own insecurities. He does not come from a wealthy family, and rather than work through his issues, he places his inadequacies on her privilege. Watching the beautiful and talented Astrid wrestle with self-doubt because of an unworthy significant other is difficult to bear, but in her moment of strength, she finally stops apologizing for her success and for the privilege she was born into. Astrid finally realizes that his issues lie with him, and in the moment when she at long last decides to leave her cheating , emotionally abusive spouse, she delivers the burn of all burns;
“It’s not my job to make you feel like a man.
I can’t make you something you’re not.”
Naturally, the film has a happy ending, as any of us would want when watching a fairy tale. Nick Young swoops in with his charisma, eloquence, and a really well-tailored outfit, and hearts around the world melt as they watch him win his love back. As far as casting goes, they could not have picked any better than Henry Golding. He’s dreamy and accented and everything you would want out of a prince.
The wedding scene is; for lack of a better expression, completely ridiculous, over-the-top, out-of-this-world, and everything that dreams are made of. Every time I sit to watch this movie, I look forward to this scene the most, second only to the scene where we first get a panoramic view of the city of Singapore. For someone who loves cities, Singapore appears to be straight out of my wildest dreams.
Traditional Chinese films tend to have dream-like sequences. They focus on florals, lights, and soft, pastel colors. The backdrops seem to be out-of-this-world, but they are, in fact, rooted in reality. I’m so pleased to see that this mainstream American film incorporated those concepts into their adaptation. You almost get a sense of a golden era, a roaring 20s vibe in terms of opulence in present-day Singapore. It’s fabulous. It’s big. It’s bold. In the middle of the city lights, we watch a colorful, exciting display of how crazy, rich Asians party, and it’s one exhilarating and intoxicating trip.
I love every second of this movie, from the synchronized swimmers to the decadent feasts, Jon M. Chu manages to make wealthy Singapore more intriguing than British royalty. He brilliantly incorporates classic, fun American songs but with Mandarin covers, such as Katherine Ho’s cover of “Yellow” and Sally Yeh’s cover of “Material Girl”. The various storylines interweave with one another and affect the other stories’ outcomes with such fluidity, leaving viewers extremely satisfied while still wishing the party wasn’t over. The entire production is a beautiful nod to a beautiful culture.
Cheers to a groundbreaking film, and to the Marina Bay Sands ending. I couldn’t have dreamt it better myself.