IMAGE COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES
BY FIEL ESTRELLA

If a movie’s impact is measured by its ability to break the base and divide its viewers, Crazy Rich Asians (based on the first book of the trilogy by Kevin Kwan) is already one of the most powerful releases this year in that regard alone.

That, and the fact that it’s the first Hollywood film in over 20 years to be top-billed by an all-Asian cast, one that successfully said “No, thanks” to producers’ initial protests to make it more “palatable” by attempting to cast a white female lead.

Instead of what would have been yet another disappointing case of whitewashing, we get Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu as NYU professor Rachel Chu, whose boyfriend Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding) has asked her to fly to Singapore with him for a wedding—and to meet his family, whom he never really talks about. Upon her arrival, Rachel discovers that she’s attending what is basically the country’s equivalent to the Royal Wedding, and that Nick, whose family turns out to be worth billions of dollars, has just become Asia’s Most Eligible Bachelor.

 

IMAGE COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

Thus follows Rachel’s various interactions and run-ins with the Young family as she tries to figure out how she, a middle-class first-generation American, fits into their glamorous lifestyle, and what this means for her relationship with Nick. What begins as a light fish-out-of-water story evolves into a surprisingly emotional journey toward acceptance and actualization.

Billed as a romantic comedy, Crazy Rich Asians is more like an ensemble drama at times, juggling such soap opera-worthy plot points as cheating spouses, petty and conniving mean girls, and constant doubt thrown Rachel’s way, forcing her to prove her love and that she’s not a gold-digger. Class issues and gender politics are also frequently brought up and challenged. But what really makes it work is how it’s all weaved seamlessly in with all of the classic rom-com staples, from conversations between the leads and their friends that mirror one another, to a fun makeover scene, to, of course, a climactic grand gesture in the proximity of an airport.

 

IMAGE COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

Such over-the-top displays of opulence and extravagance can be jarring, at best, but as much of it is seen from Rachel’s point of view, the effect is more satirical and tongue-in-cheek. However beautiful and awe-inspiring, the excess is hardly glorified, and is mostly a background for the true focus—not the Crazy Rich aspect of the title, but people the term is meant to modify. Thanks to wonderful writing and a talented cast, they are fleshed out and given the depth they’re due, allowing for a character-driven film that makes the viewer care. Michelle Yeoh’s brilliant Eleanor, Nick’s mother, inspires both fear and reverence. Gemma Chan’s Astrid is, as Rachel says, exactly who you want to be when you grow up. Rachel and Henry deserve that happily ever after.

 

IMAGE COURTESY OF WARNER BROS. PICTURES

 

Class divides aside, criticisms that Crazy Rich Asians fails to be an accurate representation of a larger Asian community aren’t unfounded. The main cast is comprised solely of actors that can pass for the more widely-acknowledged “standard” East Asian look, and while the film provides interesting points regarding the contrast between American and traditional Chinese and Singaporean cultures, being an American production, it’s still largely a Western perspective.

But you can’t deny that it is smashing ceilings and breaking new ground. Not only is it a gorgeous way to (re)discover Singapore and its various delicious dishes, it’s also, at its heart, a feel-good tale of family, love, and learning to own your self-worth and fight for what you feel and believe in. There has never been a more satisfying game of mahjong. And this time, right up there on the big screen is someone who actually looks like you.

As far as steps toward better representation go, Crazy Rich Asians isn’t perfect. But it remains an important direction all the same, and it’s simply difficult not to enjoy it for what it is—and laugh, and empathize, and even shed a few tears along the way.

Crazy Rich Asians is showing at theaters nationwide. For the full list of movie schedules at Ayala Malls cinemas, log onto Sure Seats

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