Crazy Rich Asians (3 stars)

Crazy Rich Asians

Important addition to the rom-com genre that freshens-up the formula

Although Hollywood has of late been talking the talk when it comes to representation, it's only just starting to walk the walk, and by walk we mean baby steps. So Crazy Rich Asians marks an encouraging milestone – a film that leaves the romantic comedy recipe intact but adds enough eastern influence to feel like the cinematic equivalent of fusion food. Based on Kevin Kwan's novel and combining studio gloss with a seldom-seen all-Asian cast, it's already done sizeable business in the US.

When Chinese-American economics professor Rachel (Constance Wu) travels from New York to Singapore to attend a wedding and meet the family of her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) she's wholly unprepared for the eyewatering wealth and intractable snobbery that awaits her.

'You use my Netflix password!' Rachel protests when her bashful beau belatedly fesses up to being stinking rich. The daughter of a hard-grafting single mother, she has a lot to be proud of but takes the onslaught of derision and jealousy to heart. Of particular concern is the reaction of Nick's mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who's eager for Nick to return to Singapore to head up the family business and sees Rachel as little more than an obstacle.

But it's not all adversarial, especially when Rachel is in the company of the delightful Goh family, whose approach to home décor takes inspiration from Donald Trump's bathroom. Awkwafina's motor-mouthed Peik Lin provides Rachel with a much-needed pal and Ken Jeong's patriarch is a riot as he encourages his kids to eat their dinner by saying, 'There's a lot of children starving in America.' Ouch.

The eighth feature from director Jon M Chu (Now You See Me 2, GI Joe: Retaliation) is no stranger to stereotypes, yet seeing East Asian stars cast across the character spectrum is thrilling – rather than being confined to, say, supporting roles in action films, where their inclusion is more a nod to the lucrative Chinese market than an appreciation of their talent. The fresh dressing invigorates a fairly stale star-crossed lovers story; Crazy Rich Asians is so chock-full of local razzle dazzle that it never feels in thrall to those it emulates.

If the wealth porn gets wearing there's quite an understated romance at its core; Nick and Rachel aren't a wildly charismatic couple, mainly because Golding isn't much more than blandly dashing, but Wu's naturalistic performance has a grounding effect, when it isn't being undermined by the narrative's tendency toward stock rom-com contrivances.

For the most part, Crazy Rich Asians feels appealingly sincere, even if its obsession with image somewhat contradicts the those-who-project-perfection-rarely-have-perfect-lives message. But, with its colourful characters and credible tradition-versus-modernity clashes, the film establishes a solid and fundamentally entertaining foundation on which the already-in-development sequel can build, while in its rarity it feels like an event. More of the crazy, less of the rich next time please.

General release from Fri 14 Sep.

Crazy Rich Asians

  • 3 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 2h
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Jon M Chu
  • Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh

When Chinese-American college professor Rachel (Wu) meets the family of boyfriend Nick (Golding), she discovers that they’re incredibly rich. A fairly stale star-crossed lovers’ story is refreshed by a cast of East Asian stars and entertaining local colour.