Crazy Rich Asians

Year: 2018
Studio: Warner Bros
Director: Jon M Chu
Writer: Peter Chiarelli/Adele Lim/Kevin Kwan
Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong

As an avowed leftie it's not often I find myself standing apart from the chattering classes and chardonnay socialists in the world (it's happening more all the time as media discourse on race and gender moves ever further from common sense into knee-jerk absolutism and hashtag politics), but it was interesting how all the voices clamouring for minority representation applauded this movie while the same opinions about the tasteless consumerist excess in Sex in the City 2 were curiously silent.

In the age of Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Get Out and anything else that appropriated the banners of inclusion and representation, it becomes almost a hate crime to call out a terrible movie. I'd be willing to bet real money the reason for this film's stellar box office performance isn't because so many people were happy it finally showed real Asians living their lives but because it's easily digestible, crowd-pleasing fairy floss.

It pays some lip services to Asian culture in the desire for parents to have their children marry right, for sons to join the family business, etc, but if you want to get really finicky they're not only possible racist stereotypes in themselves, they apply to most rich people, not just Asians.

Rachel (Constance Wu) is a New Yorker whose mother left Asia to give her a better life. She succeeded – Rachel isn't only a successful professor, she has the man of her dreams in Nick (Henry Golding). Nick tells her one day he's going to take her to Singapore for his brother's wedding, and when Rachel gets on the plane with him to a first class suite it's her first clue about what Nick has never told her – he's from a phenomenally rich family, overseen by his no-nonsense and stoic mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).

The plot from there is hardly worth repeating but it's simple to describe. First there's a scene of Nick and Rachel trying to navigate the effort of getting his family to accept her even though – being from a poor family with no connections – they never will, then there's a scene of lavish, over-the-top wealth on ostentatious display, then the script rinses and repeats. The various lives and loves of all Nick's grown siblings form a background chorus and in true rom-com style there's even a gender-neutral comic sidekick best friend in Awkwafina (with her socially awkward dad, played by Ken Jeong, on hand to up the laugh quotient).

It all putters along exactly as you expect from the dark turn at the opening of the third act to the last minute redemption. Even then, in case you weren't sure what genre you'd waded into, the final heart-swelling moment even comes on board a plane.

But to the politics behind the movie's place in society. The first problem with it is something we saw in The Hunger Games – that such outrageous riches are the domain of bad people, and that you shouldn't really want it because family and friends are better, and all while the art director and production designer dangle it it in your face to make you salivate over it all the more. Sociopolitically it's as putrid as Sex and the City 2.

Then there's the casting. I'm not suggesting director John M Chu told his casting people (or that the studio told him) to find leads who weren't too Asian looking so as not to put Western audiences off too much, but Golding as the male lead and a woman who plays one of his sisters are as Asian looking as I am an African pygmy. It renders it a bit of an insult to the kind of representation the critical class were all fawning over.

It's vacuous and banal and you've seen the story and the tropes a thousand times. In the end, all it proves is that really good movies that tell real stories and contain real characters from real and varied backgrounds are decidedly not found in multiplexes. That's where crowds go to enjoy the glitter on the surface and care little for anything else.

It's interesting too that Constance Wu would go on to another movie that overturned some interesting truths not about race but how we view topics like wealth, sex and gender on screens in Hustlers.

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