Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh
Director: Jon M. Chu
Running Time: 121 mins
Crazy Rich Asians is an American film about a woman who follows her boyfriend from New York City to Singapore to meet his family, but a clash of cultures soon sets the reunion into chaos.
So jam-packed with jokes, music, glamour, characters, romances, scandals and more, it’s impossible not to find something to love about Crazy Rich Asians. However, while it has all of that in abundance throughout, it all comes together in an absolute mess, complete with a painfully simplistic screenplay, frustrating and inconsistent character development, a total lack of focus in its first act, and more, to the point where the film is just as entertaining to watch as it is infuriating and underwhelming.
With an enormous ensemble cast and so much going on come the end, you’d be hard pressed not to feel out of breath at moments with Crazy Rich Asians. However, the really strange thing about it – and arguably my biggest qualm – is that the film completely fails to lift off over the course of its whole first act.
With the exception of an electric opening ten minutes, the movie stumbles through its opening half as we transfer from New York to Singapore, and meet the relatives who begin to feel a little bit of tension with the woman trying to take their beloved son away.
It’s a simple premise, and yet it’s put off for the best part of 40 minutes, replaced instead by a combination of scenes from Singapore tourist commercials and some painfully extravagant parties and houses (it’s called Crazy Rich Asians, but there’s a point where things are just a little too vulgar without clear acknowledgment of that fact), and as such it’s really difficult to get into the actual story at hand, with next to nothing going on for the entirety of the first act, as we see the movie dart back and forth between its enormous range of characters.
And what’s worse is that the lack of focus on our leads really undoes the potential for a really nice romantic story come the finale. The film’s second and third acts redress the balance fairly well, but over the course of the first act, we’re introduced to so many goofy relatives and friends that play next to no part in the story as a whole, and only serve to make a cheap laugh that fails to land more often than not.
With that said, the film comes a little more into its own with the second half, as we see the tension between Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh, who plays the domineering, traditional mother figure of the family, grow and grow to the point of bursting, something that at last brings some dramatic conflict to the movie, even if it follows fairly basic and generic rom-com lines.
Away from the story, the thing that works really well about Crazy Rich Asians is its relentless energy. While it’s not a particularly good film in most regards, it’s full of life and vigour throughout, and that’s what makes it an enjoyable watch from time to time. There are some great laughs here and there – with Awkwafina and Nico Santos standing out in particular as the film’s funniest performers – while the movie’s Chinese-language soundtrack is always a joy to listen to, along with the vibrant visuals that depict all that extravagant wealth.
All of that comes together to make a film that zips along over the course of two hours, and although I have to say that I found its messy narrative painfully irritating, and a lot of its comedy less-than-hilarious, it is a film that made me laugh and smile at times, and that’s why I’m giving Crazy Rich Asians a 6.8 overall.