Crazy Rich Asians movie review: The best Karan Johar movie Karan Johar never made
Crazy Rich Asians
Director - Jon M Chu
Cast - Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Ken Jeong
Rating - 3/5
It is said that Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was an immensely annoying experience for Chinese audiences. Like most crossover hits, it took certain liberties that it hoped Western audiences would be too stupid to notice.
While the film was in Chinese – a generic term whose nuance is understandably lost on most of us – only one of its four leads could actually speak in the Mandarin dialect that director Ang Lee wanted. The rest of its central cast was made up of a Malaysian, a Hong Kong megastar and a Taiwanese up-and-comer. Imagine getting away with that. In fact, here’s an unbelievable bit of trivia for you -- Michelle Yeoh, the aforementioned Malay of the lot, learnt all her lines phonetically. It’s no wonder then that Lee later lamented, “On the first day I had to do 28 takes just because of the language. That’s never happened before in my life.”
Of all the films that Crazy Rich Asians borrows from narratively - all the romantic comedies and Disney movies - the one movie it reminded me the most of was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon - not only because of Michelle Yeoh, but because of what it represents.
Like any film with more than two months of hype fuelling its engines, Crazy Rich Asians arrives in India as if on its last breath, like a travelling circus after an exhausting world tour.
And as I’d feared, it’s a disappointingly empty movie, more fun to gawk at than anything else, like window-shopping at one of those high-end malls. Watching its characters flying in first class suites and driving cars more expensive than our homes, Steve Rogers’ quip instantly came to mind: “Take away the money, what are you?”
Unfortunately for Crazy Rich Asians, it has neither the wit nor the likability of Tony Stark. Instead, as if channelling Bruce Wayne, it drawls, “I’m rich.”
And Nick Young, as played by Henry Golding - the Asian Jude Law, if you will - could very well be the Asian Bruce Wayne, too. His girlfriend, Rachel Chu, the film’s protagonist, knew that Nick was rich, but she didn’t know that he was, in fact, crazy rich.
When the couple is invited to Nick’s friend’s wedding in Singapore, Rachel is shocked to learn that he is basically a prince. Back home, Nick’s a bit of a celebrity, and the entire nation, it seems, is curious to find out more about the girl he’s brought along. It’s a nifty switcheroo in terms of gender roles - normally in movies, it’s guys like Aladdin who fall for the Jasmines of the world.
Most of the film’s conflict - and I use this term very loosely, considering the least privileged person on screen is an economics professor in NYU - comes from Rachel feeling inadequate when confronted by all the wealth. Her insecurities are stoked by Nick’s domineering mother (Michelle Yeoh), who at one point in the film decides that she is an Ekta Kapoor vamp and says to her, “I know this much, you will never be enough.”
But Crazy Rich Asians’ brief foray into soap opera territory is just one of its many connections to India and Indian culture (including the colourful bombast of our films). There is always a strong undercurrent of class in Rachel’s interactions with Nick’s family. Sometimes this divide is played for laughs, like when she chugs water meant to clean ones hands, but on other occasions, Crazy Rich Asians reveals itself to be more mature than it had initially let on - like Shaandaar with aspirations to be Monsoon Wedding.
It positively thrives on cliches, to be sure - there’s a makeover montage and an airport chase and everything - but there’s some joy to be derived from watching a jovial old woman, happily instructing Rachel to address her as ‘aunty’, and the performance of Awkwafina, who plays the sassy best friend.
But that’s about it. Besides being surprisingly rote in its filmmaking - all the months of hype had led me (and probably you) to believe that director Jon M Chu had singlehandedly saved an entire genre - Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t come close to being the best romantic comedy of 2018, as many have claimed. That title must go to Netflix’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, which, if you’d remember, was much more subtle about having an Asian lead character.
Crazy Rich Asians’ social victories far outweigh its creative accomplishments - it is, admittedly, a giant win for representation in a white male dominated industry - but it never lets you forget that with only a slight adjustment in tone, it could pass off as a feature length advertisement for Singapore tourism.