The Sterling Standard in Movie Reviews 

Follow Us On:


Crazy Good Comedy

Constance Wu
Constance Wu
Warner Brothers
 120 Minutes
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding  
Crazy Rich Asians

One of the most bizarre movies ever made by a Hollywood studio was The Terror of Tiny Town, a 1938 Western with a cast comprised entirely of midgets. The film has been widely derided over the years for obvious reasons but was fairly successful in its day. At first glance, the new romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians might appear to be a 21st century version of Tiny Town, an attempt to recast some standard material with Asian actors and locales. However, Crazy Rich Asians is not just a run-of-the-mill genre film with a new look. Instead, it’s smartly written, dazzlingly produced, and uses its ethnicity to drive the story rather than merely serve as a source for cheap jokes.

Admittedly, Crazy Rich Asians has many of the same plot elements that have been in one lame comedy after another this past decade, including two of the most common of all time: the disapproving parents and the battle between the haves and the have-nots. Constance Wu headlines the cast as Rachel Chu, an economics professor in New York City raised by a single mother working odd jobs ever since arriving in America. She thinks her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) comes from similarly modest circumstances (he even borrows her Netflix password), but, when he invites her to the wedding of his best friend Colin (Chris Pang) in Singapore, she is shocked to discover that his family is one of the wealthiest in the world.

As might be expected in a movie like Crazy Rich Asians, some of Henry’s relatives are spoiled jerks, like his two brothers, but the worst reception Rachel receives is from Henry’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who simply doesn’t think Rachel is good enough for her son and lets the younger woman know this in several very hurtful ways. Eleanor has long expected Henry, the only one of her children with good business sense, to take over the family business some day and marry a local woman, but Henry’s continued insistence on living in New York threatens those plans.

There are few real surprises in Crazy Rich Asians and few surprising characters. The only people Rachel feels at all close to in Singapore are her old college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina, playing the comic relief role to the hilt), Nick’s genuinely nice cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), and the obligatory gay busybody, cousin Oliver (Nico Santos). Astrid has problems of her own, as she suspects her own not-so-wealthy husband of having an affair. Meanwhile, a goofy comic relief sidekick has to have a goofy family of her own, with Ken Jeong as Peik Lin’s father.

But, while many of the characters and scenarios in Crazy Rich Asians are quite familiar with moviegoers, the script by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim (from a novel by Kevin Kwan) seamlessly incorporates many elements of Asian culture. Eleanor’s disapproval of Rachel, despite the fact that her own mother-in-law disapproved of her decades earlier, is only partially based on Rachel’s lack of wealth and common background. A large part of the dislike stems from the fact that Rachel is Chinese-American and not “real” Chinese in Eleanor’s eyes. The conflict between the two feels quite real, primarily because of a terrific performance by Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor (who also has the best-written role in the movie). Her Eleanor is not a caricature, unlike many of the characters in the movie, and she underplays the role to avoid turning it into one.


Although director Jon M. Chu makes a point to showcase the extravagantly lavish and non-ethnic lifestyle of the Youngs and other wealthy families in the movie, Crazy Rich Asians also showcases some distinctly Oriental elements. A key scene in the movie involves the Young family making dumplings, a skill that Rachel tries her best to learn. Later, a climactic showdown between Rachel and Eleanor takes place in a mahjong parlor, and the play of the hand between them marks a pivotal point in their relationship. Despite the extravagant silliness of some of the goings on in the movie, scenes like these give it a touch of realism that makes the melodramatic moments much more effective.


What most people will take away from Crazy Rich Asians is the rich part, or more precisely some of the excess that goes on in the movie, including bachelor and bachelorette parties for the wedding couple that take up an entire cargo ship and small island respectively. Naturally, the costuming and set design are exquisite (expect Oscar nominations in both categories), and the obligatory scene in which Rachel tries on a variety of outfits while cousin Oliver critiques them is more effective than normal. Director Chu’s last effort was Now You See Me 2, another movie that cashed in on lavish showmanship (and was set largely in the Orient as well), and he exhibits that same flair. Like the magic acts in Now You See Me 2, Chu’s set pieces are deliberately over the top and serve as an often pointed satire on the lifestyles of the 1% of the 1%.


While Chu has plenty of time for spectacle and his central boy-girl-mom triangle in Crazy Rich Asians, the other characters get rather short shrift. Cousin Astrid is the only secondary character with an actual story arc, albeit one that’s rather truncated from the version in the book. The book also spent more time with the secondary characters, but here they are reduced to the flimsiest of stereotypes, despite the movie’s two-hour running time. Fortunately, author Kwan’s novel was the first of a trilogy, so there is plenty of material still available for the inevitable sequels.


As a somewhat groundbreaking film, Crazy Rich Asians is not a great movie, but neither is it a mediocre film that hits box office gold due to a mere gimmick. Instead, it’s a slickly made, well-acted, lavish spectacle with the right mix of humor and drama to keep any audience entertained for two hours. Yes, part of its appeal to Western audiences may well be the novelty of the story and cast, but that’s far from its only appeal. At a time when romantic comedies are at an all-time low in Hollywood, both in terms of quality and box office appeal, with Netflix producing a better crop of romcoms than the studios do, Crazy Rich Asians is an example of how to do it right, no matter where the movie is set or what the cast looks like.

In this scene, the news spreads quickly when Henry Golding invites Constance Wu to go with him to Singapore.

Read other reviews of Crazy Rich Asians: 

Crazy Rich Asians (2018) on IMDb