Exciting news, fellow scientists! It's been literally decades, but Hollywood has finally rediscovered the formula for releasing movies with an Asian cast from a major studio. (The formula is as follows: HIRE ASIAN ACTORS AND FILMMAKERS.) This has culminated in the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan's novel, Crazy Rich Asians, aka the subject of this Highly Scientific Analysis. To the laboratory!
ACTUAL PSA: If you haven't seen it yet but are planning to do so, stick around for the mid-credit scene!
(Slight spoilers ahead, unless otherwise stated where there are GIANT spoilers.)
Crazy Rich Lushes
THE OFFICIAL FYA CRAZY RICH ASIANS DRINKING GAME
Whether you're popping bottles or opening boxes of wine, FYA's drinking games will get you extravagantly trashed, no matter how much Eleanor Young judges you.
Take a sip whenever:
• you're overwhelmed by the opulence on display
Take a drink whenever:
• a character says something that you can't believe someone would say to another person's face (passive-aggressive barbs, backhanded compliments, etc.)
• someone shit-talks Americans (sorry, Americans)
• Rachel tries on a new outfit
• there's tasty business overload
-- i.e., food, but connoisseurs of finely sculpted shirtless men may choose to follow an additional definition (and I mean defined)
Take a shot whenever:
• A location title card appears
• A new party starts
• "Optimal angles" are demonstrated
Finish your drink whenever:
• A character has a fist-pump 'FUCK YEAH' walk-off moment
Crazy Rich Cast
Constance Wu as Rachel
Anyone who watches Fresh Off the Boat already knows that Constance is the shizz. Here, she takes on both comedy and dramz as a fab leading lady and fish-out-of-water audience proxy in this world of obscene wealth.
Henry Golding as Nick
It's kind of absurd that Henry Golding hadn't had much acting experience prior to this role, because HELLO, THIS MAN IS A STAR AND ALSO RIDICULOUSLY DREAMY.
Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor
I know this phrase is overplayed, but YAAAAAAS KWEEN. Her Royal Highness is just out here teaching a master class in icy demeanour and withering stares. (Also, Michelles Yeoh and Obama should start a friendship club for goddesses with the same name who have amazingly toned arms, because DAAAAMN.)
Gemma Chan as Astrid
Rachel mentions wanting to be Astrid when she grows up, and HARD SAME. Astrid is effortlessly elegant, and whomever's going to remake Audrey Hepburn's films (which is mostly* sacrilege, but you know it'll happen) should have Gemma Chan's agent on speed dial.
*Breakfast at Tiffany's, obvs.
Awkwafina as Peik Lin
As Ocean's 8 and now Crazy Rich Asians has shown, AWKWAFINA IS EVERYTHING. I was really hoping that Peik Lin would be dressed in animal patterns for all of her scenes, but it's only most of her scenes.
Ken Jeong as Wye Mun
Ken Jeong does what he does so well in playing a character that walks a fine line between funny and obnoxious. It's a small role, but I love that Crazy Rich Asians was to him what the Harry Potter movies were to British actors looking for any excuse to get cast in them.
Nico Santos as Oliver
Probably the best Cousin Oliver to grace the screen, the Crazy Rich Asians edition is like the family's Olivia Pope fixer mastermind. And not being acquainted with Nico Santos earlier makes me feel bad about sleeping on Superstore, because Olivier is GREAT.
Chris Pang as Colin
Sure, Colin is Nick's best friend and the groom in the fancypants wedding that the movie revolves around, but the pertinent information is that Colin is shirtless A LOT. A deep dive into Chris' filmography reveals that he was in the adaptation of Tomorrow, When the War Began, which I only know of because FYA reviewed it a million years ago. AND Chris is Australian! (He should also start a friendship club with CHemsworth for Australian Chrises who like to take off their shirts.)
Sonoya Mizuno as Araminta
Araminta (who's the one getting married to Colin, if you couldn't tell from the photo above) is bubbly and vivacious and juuuust a bit extra in everything she does -- a far departure from Sonoya's role in Ex Machina. (If you've seen it, it won't take long to figure out which character she played and then get bummed out.)
Jimmy O. Yang as Bernard
I've never watched Silicon Valley, so I guess I only know Jimmy from a few guest spots on Drunk History? Regardless, he plays douchenozzle Bernard with garish aplomb.
Crazy Rich Reactions
• The first time I watched it (because, yes, I've already seen it twice by now) was with a predominantly Asian crowd, notable for having both 1) so many Asians in one place within my city that isn't Chinatown or my old high school, and 2) SUCH great audience reactions, they were scandalized at everything. (Some of the jokes also played much better with them than they did with my Saturday matinee less-Asian audience, like the massive gossip network scene at the beginning.)
• Still not over hearing Mandarin songs in a North American theatre for an English-speaking movie. Like, they let them do that! Which seems like a microcosm of not being used to seeing Asian culture celebrated in Hollywood.
• And hearing Asian languages! And understanding way more than what the subtitles provide! (Only inconsequential things, like Eleanor giving orders to the kitchen staff, but still.)
• Now that the floodgates have opened: MORE ASIANS IN EVERYTHING, PLEASE. I keep on forgetting that this movie just opened, but like seriously, why hasn't a sequel been greenlit yet? (Yes, we all know why, but DO IT NOW.)
• Back to the soundtrack: it's pretty good! The throwback Big Band music fits really well with the old money vibe. Miguel feels a little random (like, y'all couldn't have at least gotten Bruno Mars?), especially since literally all the other songs are sung by Asian women, but whatevs. THE COVERS, THOUGH, is where it's at. Kina Grannis' is fantastic, as is her performance of it in the movie. And the Chinese versions of popular English songs are so fun when that moment of recognition kicks in! Especially since a cover of one of my all-time faves is extremely prominent, MY HEART.
• The cityscape shots of Singapore are kind of hilarious to me because everything's so concentrated that it's like the same tiny area over and over again. (Makes for an easy film tour, though!)
• THE FOOD. (Although you can't get a true sense of how freaking hot it gets in those open-air hawker centres from just watching.) I also read somewhere that I can no longer recall that the cast would go out to eat all the time during filming, if you weren't already convinced that they are all magic.
• THE FASHION. My favourite has to be Rachel's "disco Cleopatra" dress, although Nick's homecoming party is a sartorial peak for everybody. (I also liked Astrid's dress in the rooftop party scene, so apparently I prefer the boobie dresses on her and not her usual super classy attire.) But the clothes also serve a storytelling purpose; Rachel wears normal people clothes and even the same pair of earrings twice, whereas Astrid will drop $1.2 million on jewelry without batting an eye.
• THE SHIRTLESSNESS. (So important that I accidentally wrote it twice in my notes!) This movie is challenging Hollywood's perception of Asian men with ample and gratuitous shirtlessness. KEEP FIGHTING THE GOOD FIGHT, SIRS.
• Now onto dicier territory. The problems I had were with how minor characters were handled, but the criticisms are fairly major.
- On the way to Nick's homecoming party, Rachel and Peik Lin get lost and are shocked by the appearance of armed guards. All the guards do is peer into the car, and the women don't even notice their weapons until later on, so there's nothing menacing about them at first glance other than... they're brown? Not that Asians can't be racist towards each other (far from it!), but it's disheartening that this movie would go that route of other-ing certain Asians -- especially since it's already low on representation of darker-skinned Asians.
- For all the strides this movie makes in portraying Asian men as objects of desire, it's still a very conventional standard of attractiveness. Like, rock-hard abs or GTFO. (Which, to be fair, can be extended to Hollywood and society at large.) Give Oliver a boyfriend and/or a sidepiece in the sequel!
• OK, so about the casting of actors as ethnicities that are not their own. On the one hand, it feels disingenuous and hypocritical to be like, "YES, we need better representation!"... and then go "Meh, close enough." On the flip side, for those actors whose opportunities are already limited for not being white, should they really be denied these roles too? Not to mention the hurdles that multiracial actors (and people) face, of constantly being told that they don't belong to any group that they identify as. Besides, demanding any kind of blood purity seems super uncomfortable and maybe we should noooooot.
Broadly, there should just be more roles for Asian and multiracial actors -- written with or without race in mind. Or, if possible, rewrite the character to fit the actor. For his role in particular, I feel it's more important that Henry Golding lives and works in Asia than him being 100% Asian as Nick is. (Golding is of Malaysian Iban and English descent.) LET HIM ROMANCE YOU IN PEACE.
• Naysayers of the movie might focus on it not being representative of the Asian experience. Which... yeah, no shit. We Chinese alone are over one billion strong; why would anybody think that a single movie could encapsulate the ENTIRE Asian experience? If anything, this movie highlights how many varied and nuanced stories that could be told about all sorts of Asian people. Because Asian-American is not Asian Asian; working class Asian is not upper, upper class Asian; and so on.
There's a great anecdote in the oral history of Better Luck Tomorrow about a viewer at Sundance chastizing the movie for, "How dare you represent your people that way!" The late great Roger Ebert came to the movie's defense, pointing out that no one would tell white people how to make their films. Sure, judge a movie by its merits: the directing, the acting, the writing, etc. But don't try to restrict the kinds of stories that can be told just because they don't conform to your narrow worldview.
Crazy Rich Spoilers
BOOK AND MOVIE SPOILERS AHEAD! Stop here, skip to the very last section ("Crazy Rich Conclusions"), or proceed at your own discretion.
• In my first viewing, I watched next to a friend who hadn't read the book and was feeling sad about Astrid's storyline. Smug book reader that I am, I assured her that things will be looking up but exercised enough restraint from revealing HARRY SHUM, JR., OMGGGGG. BUT THEN the movie ended and he still hadn't shown up, WTFFFFFFFFFFFF. BUT THEN #2, he did appear for realsies -- and for all of a 10-second wordless scene, WTFFFFFFFFF AGAIN. No hyperbole, my jaw was literally hanging open at the audacity of casting HSJ for a glorified cameo. (The woman behind the airplane proposal had more lines and screentime than him!)
However, I will concede that cutting the character from the first film makes complete sense. Although I'm so curious as to what HSJ would do for an accent! (Same as all the other rich kids, Book Charlie is a Singaporean who was educated in England.) At least we'll always have this GIF, even if it means a scene with Harry Shum, Jr. was cut from this movie.
• Going back to the importance of styling, I noticed that Eleanor always looks impeccably flawless with her hair up -- except for the very first scene in London, in which she's being looked down upon and made to feel lesser than. But we all know how that turned out for anyone foolish enough to cross Eleanor Mothercussin' Young.
• Nick changing his shirt in front of his mom seemed a litlte weird, but I admire director Jon M. Chu's Asian man shirtlessness. Many thanks also for Colin's billowing shirt on the bachelor party freighter and Michael's entire introduction scene.
• All the wedding festivities were hella much, but that wedding did look amazing. Araminta's bachelorette, however, was an absolute nightmare, even without factoring in the catty guests and the dead fish. Why is she running everything? Where are her bridesmaids? (Although she did seem to relish being the Jeff Probst of destination bachelorettes.) Also, who are these monsters yammering on during a massage?! I don't care if you're there with friends; socialize later, shut the fuck up now!
• My Chinese friends and I were totally second-guessing ourselves on the rules of mahjong (of which we all have vague understanding). Basically, the game plays out exactly like Rachel's describing the outcomes for Nick's proposal: the game piece that Rachel is considering whether to keep can win her the game, just as accepting the proposal would 'win' her Nick. But by walking away in both instances, Rachel is giving Eleanor the win and letting her know it. (Here's a way more thorough explainer of the scene.)
• The conflict between Rachel and Eleanor is undoubtedly the main event, but I love the peek into mother-in-law dynamics on the other side, with Eleanor and Ah Ma. Eleanor gives as good as she takes!
• All movies should end with a jubilant Titanic scene with the full cast. And no one even had to die! (See also: Magic Mike XXL.)
Crazy Rich Adaptation
• I haven't read the books in years (and deliberately do so to let the different media stand on their own), but the movie definitely captured the same spirit, which is basically all I need from my adaptations.
• SO HAPPY that the prologue in London made it into the movie! Which I should have known it would, since it's such a satisfying 'EFF YOU' moment, but I take nothing for granted in adaptations.
• All of the characters met or exceeded my expectations from the books. My most improved is surprisingly Eddie, whose comeuppance I was constantly rooting for to shut his smug face up while reading, but was able to enjoy a lot more in small doses as a live-action buffoon.
• The seeds have been planted for adapting the sequels (Rachel's dad, Kitty and Bernard, Charlie's mercilessly short cameo), so CAN WE GET THEM ALREADY?!??!
• One notable change from the first novel is the absence of Nick's dad. Stunt casting for the sequels, perhaps? Maybe Chow Yun Fat, for the Crouching Tiger reunion? (As well as someone who's not Jackie Chan and not Jet Li as a recognizable Chinese name in Hollywood.) My personal pick would be Anthony Wong, a great Hong Kong actor who's also of Chinese and English descent, to somewhat fit with Henry Golding. And we can keep CYF in the mix by casting him as Rachel's long-lost dad. Dads for everyone!
Crazy Rich Conclusions
UMMMMM, so I liked it a bit, I guess, if you couldn't tell from all the words I've written about it. No, it might not be reinventing the wheel, but it is breathing new life into the nearly-lost art of the big budget rom-com. And it's telling a really big group of people -- especially those living in places where they're greatly outnumbered by those who don't look like them -- that we're seen, that we're worthy, that we're enough. Because here's the thing about getting a breath of fresh air: once you have it, you can't believe that you ever went without it. So here's hoping that we won't.
Have y'all watched Crazy Rich Asians yet? Hit me up with your thoughts in the comments! (Pro-tip: If you'd like to leave a spoiler-y comment, please use spoiler tags! (Instructions here.))
Crazy Rich Asians is in theatres now. (Go see the shizz out of it!)