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Crazy Rich Asians review - a romantic comedy finally worth seeing

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Verdict: Crazy Rich Asians provides both laughs and tears, and is a breath of fresh air. 

It is hard to find something to say about Crazy Rich Asians that hasn’t already been said. Based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, it is the first film by a major Hollywood studio to feature an all Asian-American cast since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club.

It follows Rachel (Constance Wu), an Asian-American economics professor, as her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) invites her to Singapore to attend his best friend’s wedding and meet his family. What she doesn’t know is that they are the wealthiest family in the country - and that Nick is considered the most eligible bachelor of Singapore.

What follows is an extravagant and dazzling look into Singapore’s elite and one of the best romantic comedies of recent years, whose fashion is on par with The Devil Wears Prada and Sex and the City. Director John M. Chu manages his large ensemble cast with ease, giving each character its moment to shine - the foremost being Constance Wu’s comedic yet touching performance as the fish-out-of-water Rachel. As the child of a working-class, immigrant single-mother, she is immediately at odds with Nick’s cold and protective mother (the superb Michelle Yeoh) and the scenes they share together are some of the highlights of the film.

Gemma Chan is also a standout as Nick’s socialite cousin who has to deal with her husband's inferiority complex and possible affairs. Most of the laughs are delivered by the perfectly cast Awkwafina and Ken Jeong, who play Rachel’s nouveau-riche best friend Goh Peik Lin and her father.

Of course, under all the flashy decors, parties and banquets, there is something deeper at the heart of Crazy Rich Asians. As the movie opens with Nick’s family getting their reservation denied by an upscale hotel (“perhaps you should try Chinatown"), I was reminded of going to a high-end store with my Vietnamese mom and not being permitted to try on some clothes (“you can’t try if you’re not going to buy”). I saw my little cousin in Goh Peik Lin’s little sisters - and I recognised the food they ate as the food I ate as a child. Growing up in a half-white, half-Asian household, I identified with Rachel’s struggle in not knowing where and how to fit in as an Asian-American.

Most of the time, when I see Southeast Asians in films it is to fill in stereotypical roles such as manicurists or doctors. Seeing such a large Asian cast in unapologetically powerful and opulent roles was simply something I had never seen before - and it was both poignant and a breathe of fresh air. It is easy to forget about this lack of representation in film, but when you see these sorts of experiences on screen, it hits you that you've been missing out.

I have to say that before the film came out, I was worried. What if it’s not good? What if it fails to attract an audience? Would that mean the beginning and the end of Hollywood giving Asian actors and stories a chance? Now in its third week at number 1 at the US box-office, I can rest assured. It follows smash-hit films like Girls Trip, Black Panther, and Get Out to show that audiences crave seeing all kinds of ethnicities and stories on screen. Most of all, it is a genuinely great romantic comedy, which seems to be a rarity these days. A sequel is already on the way, in what will hopefully be one of many more Asian-led Hollywood films.

Crazy Rich Asians comes out in the UK on September 14th.

 

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