As some of my colleagues have noted, the Japanese arm of Warner Bros. has dropped “Asians” from the title of this surprise box office hit, and while we can probably surmise the reason for the elision, the Japanese socio-historical relationship with its continental neighbors is so fraught with problematic baggage that any attempt to parse it would likely result in the inflation of bad stereotypes.
In any event, the movie is pure product, and we know what Tinsel Town has done to any Japanese subject matter. Here, the principals are Chinese-Americans and Singaporeans, none of whose economic circumstances place them below what used to pass for the upper middle class in New York City, where Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) grew up and where she met her future fiancee, Nick Young (Henry Golding), the scion of a wealthy Singaporean real estate dynasty, though Rachel doesn’t really know that until Nick flies her home for the ostensible purpose of attending the wedding of his equally privileged cousin, Colin (Chris Pang). The real reason for the long, expensive journey is to introduce Rachel to his domineering mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who, predictably, doesn’t approve of Rachel, and not just because of the class and nationality differences. There’s a clear indication that Rachel’s brand of Chineseness is not acceptable to Eleanor, whose own relationship to her ethnic heritage is so narrow as to comprise a separate country.
But since this is a classic romantic comedy, these charged themes are played for laughs more often than not. The Youngs’ extravagance mirrors that of Katharine Hepburn’s family in The Philadelphia Story in that it’s easy to poke fun at from an average person’s standpoint, most of which is alluded to in the jokey exchanges that Rachel has with her college pal Peik Lin (Awkwafina), a native Singaporean who knows both sides of the divide only too well. Even more ridiculous is her father, who, as played by the already insufferable Ken Jeong, is as cartoonish as a Chinese character can be without being played by a white person.
Of course, the reason Crazy Rich Asians is a hit as a movie (I can’t comment on the novel, not having read it) is that it seems to say something to Chinese-Americans about their situation (maybe not so much to Chinese living in Asia) while giving them characters and actors who represent them wholeheartedly. Consequently, I got little to chew on from the scenes about mah jongg and moon cakes, though the slapstick and absurdist circumstances surrounding the actual wedding reception and ceremony rise above cultural signifiers. There’s actually nothing that’s really surprising about Crazy Rich Asians. It’s a standard rom-com-at-the-wedding storyline highlighted by dozens of extremely beautiful people occupying opulent sets and acting in character. It’s the most Hollywood movie I’ve seen in a long time.
Now playing in Tokyo at Shinjuku Picadilly (050-6861-3011), Marunouchi Picadilly (03-3201-2881), Toho Cinemas Nihonbashi (050-6868-5060), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551), Toho Cinemas Roppongi Hills (050-6868-5024).
Crazy Rich Asian home page in Japanese.
photo (c) 2018 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and SK Global Entertainment