It's a rich mans world

Rating: 4

Crazy Rich Asians

by Jason Solomons

Although based on a popular book, Crazy Rich Asians surprised the film industry by topping the American box office for several weeks. Much was said and written about the refreshing sight of a hit mainstream Hollywood comedy with an entirely Asian cast – the first time it’s happened since the Joy Luck Club at least 25 years ago.

Clearly, there’s an untapped audience, although how the studios didn’t notice the viewing potential of a third of the planet remains a peculiarly American mystery.

Of course, I should point out that when Americans say ‘Asian’, they mean the Far East, not the Indian sub-continent (where another billion or so film-mad customers also lie untapped by Hollywood, although they seem pretty happy with Bollywood’s offerings).

Anyway, Crazy Rich Asians could only achieve this new cultural landmark because it’s really good. Set mostly in the westernised modernity of Singapore, with nods to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and New York, it’s a knockabout rom-com, practically a Chinese Four Weddings and a Funeral, or a glitzier update of Ang Lee’s early comedies like Eat Drink Man Woman and The Wedding Banquet.

Nick Young is a handsome, suave man with an impeccable Oxbridge accent (played by Surrey-raised TV presenter Henry Golding). He whisks his New York college professor girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, and to meet his family who, she finds out, are some of the richest people in Asia.

In fact, everyone in Singapore is ridiculously wealthy – crazy rich, indeed – as Rachel's old college friend informs her. New Yorkers pale in comparison.

After a feast of soft shell crab and satay at the night market, Rachel has to face up to Nick’s status back on his immaculately manicured home turf. Social media buzzes with OMGs about this woman Nick has brought back from America. The hen night reveals the bitchy ex-girlfriends of Singapore's most eligible bachelor, although they’re nothing compared to Nick’s fearsome mother (superbly played by Michelle Yeoh). While envious eyes are on Rachel, Nick has to put up with the threat of being cut off for marrying a ‘commoner’.

Given that most rom-coms are still based on Pride and Prejudice, it makes sense to compare this to a classic British period drama, one dripping with gold and costume finery, only set in the gleaming glitz of Singapore and all its wealth, where international airports, seven-star hotels and rooftop bars are the new stately homes.

there’s a bit of Dallas here, too, but there’s an infectious new world confidence about it all, a sense of easy new imperialism – and it all looks so stylish. there are fabulous and terrible outfits – this film’s smart enough to know money doesn’t always equal taste, unless Donald trump’s bathroom is your interior decorating moodboard.

Most importantly, while we gawp at the display of money, I don’t think for a moment it’s exaggerated. I’m not saying this is Singaporean social realism, but it’s certainly designed to show Americans they’re not the kings of bling anymore. The global power is shifting, and the designer shoes are going with it.

Thankfully, the script and the performances are often funny and, eventually, touching. amid the lavish parties and golden-gated mansions, there’s all the dumpling- making and Mah-Jong you could want, as well as a few wise words from a kindly-seeming Grandma.

it works because Crazy Rich Asians comes with a panging sense of identity and family, a modern fairytale with its heart in the right place, where love might still be able to conquer big business and even bigger bitches.