Movie Review ~ Crazy Rich Asians

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family.

Stars: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Michelle Yeoh, Lisa Lu, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remi Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Ken Jeong

Director: Jon M. Chu

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 120 minutes

TMMM Score: (9/10)

Review: So here we are in the final weeks of summer. The kids are getting ready to go back to school and adults (at least this one!) are breathing a sigh of relief.  As far of summer movies go, over the course of the last few months we’ve had some highs (Avengers: Infinity War), some lows (Book Club), and some downright stinkers (Breaking In). If you asked me a few weeks ago what would be the best film of the summer my vote would have been Mission: Impossible – Fallout. I mean, that Tom Cruise vehicle was a real corker, firing on all cylinders and delivering a massive jolt of adrenaline…a perfect formula for a memorable summer blockbuster.

Well, right before the summer season finish line we have a late breaking champion that swooped in and stole the Best Of prize from Cruise and company. Yep, Crazy Rich Asians is, for me, the best film of the summer and the one I think you’ll have a lot of fun at. It’s been quite some time since we’ve had a movie this fresh and satisfying, a romantic comedy that’s effervescent but not operating twelve feet in the air. It’s a grounded, well-made film that’s exuberantly fun and endlessly charming.

Though I failed to make it through Kevin Kwan’s bestseller (the first in a trilogy) before seeing the movie, I knew enough to see that Crazy Rich Asians stays respectful to its source material. Readers will remember the zinger of an opener set in the past that leads directly into the present where we meet economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, Sound of My Voice) and her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding, the upcoming A Simple Favor). Nick wants Rachel to accompany him to Singapore for a friend’s wedding and to introduce her to his family. Though Rachel has met some of Nick’s friends already, meeting the family is a whole other ball of wax and it’s an invite she’s eager to accept.

It’s not until they are seated in a deluxe first class cabin on their international flight that Rachel starts to realize her boyfriend is a tad more well-off than he has led her to believe (remarking at how frugal he is, Rachel says “You even borrow my Netflix password.”). Turns out Nick Young’s family is well known throughout much of Asia and they haven’t even touched down in Singapore before nearly the entire country knows of their arrival. Over the next week of celebrations leading up to the wedding, Rachel will meet Nick’s tradition-minded mother (Michelle Yeoh, Morgan), his adoring grandmother (Lisa Lu, The Joy Luck Club), his cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan, Transformers: The Last Knight), and a whole host of other relations both crazy and rich to varying degrees.

Much has been made that Crazy Rich Asians is the first studio film with an Asian cast set in the present day since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club and it’s a headline worth taking note of. Thankfully, the film doesn’t hang its hat just on this distinction but instead presents itself as a fully-formed, gorgeously made, romantic comedy that feels almost immediately like an instant classic. The characters are broad but relatable…even if you’ll likely be drooling at the kind of opulent lives they lead. The comedic entanglements from screenwriters Peter Chiarelli (Now You See Me 2) and Adele Lim are familiar but delivered with a zest that clears away any stale smell of retreading clichés, and the message about tradition/home/family feels exceedingly timely.

Director Jon M. Chu (Jem and the Holograms) has fashioned a handsome looking film that feels like every single dollar was put up on screen. With no huge names in the cast, the budget went intro production design and the movie benefits hugely from it. Not that the cast is bargain-rate by any means. Wu is a fantastically contemporary leading lady, a smart woman of today that doesn’t lose herself within the confines of visiting a culture very different from her own. Newcomer Golding is a real find (and the product of a lengthy casting search) and the chemistry he has with Wu and the other cast members is electric. Chan has an interesting arc as Nick’s sister in a difficult marriage and by the time her storyline wraps up expect some applause as she delivers a killer takedown. Yeoh has a fine line to tread between being too much of a villain when she’s not really a bad person and she expertly navigates this minefield with class and in countless glam gowns. Keep your eyes and ears open anytime Awkwafina is onscreen as she steals scenes even more than she did in Oceans Eight earlier this summer.

From it’s eye-popping displays of the lifestyles of the crazy, rich, and famous to its smart soundtrack featuring Asian remakes of pop songs, this is a movie that knows exactly what it is and who it’s for. Even better, this feels like it was made for one type of audience but winds up likely appealing to many more. If this does well we can hope not only for a sequel but for studios to wise up and greenlight more projects with casts that represent our world.

Mid-Day Mini ~ The Joy Luck Club

The Facts:

Synopsis: The life histories of four Asian women and their daughters reflect and guide each other.

Stars: Tamlyn Tomita, Rosalind Chao, Tsai Chin, France Nuyen, Lisa Lu, Ming-Na, Lauren Tom

Director: Wayne Wang

Rated: R

Running Length: 139 minutes

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  This adaptation of Amy Tan’s celebrated 1989 novel had the great fortune of falling into the right hands.  In addition to Oscar winning producer Oliver Stone and Oscar winning screenwriter Ronald Bass (who collaborated on the script with Tan), director Wang was at the helm overseeing this drama that looked into the lives of a quartet of women and their daughters.

Tan’s novel weaved together the past and the present to form a rich tapestry of insights into cultures and customs and the movie followed well in its footsteps.  I remember reading the novel before I saw the movie and finding it very cinematic in its conception.  It was a joy to see that Bass and Tan managed to skillfully bring to life eight vastly different women with divergent stories, binding them together in a fantastic package.

Though the story is solid, the acting can run the gamut…mostly in the modern day daughters of these women.  All the mothers have a noble story, some tragic, some humorous…but all with a definite impact.  Chin makes the best impression as a feisty tiger mother that expects the best from her daughter.  As the movie unfolds we see why she takes such pride in success and the sacrifices she made to provide the life her family enjoys. 

It’s a handsomely made film that only gets more rewarding with each viewing as you can focus on another storyline.  It’s also one of those tearjerkers that come from situations that we can relate to…especially for anyone (male or female) that gets that guilty pit in their stomach after responding in anger to a parent just trying to help or realizing too late you didn’t appreciate the unspoken gifts they gave you.  Brace yourself for a heartbreaking scene set in a salon and a Kleenex box emptying reunion as the film draws to a close.

The Silver Bullet ~ Dangerous Liaisons (2012)

Synopsis: In Shanghai, an aging socialite’s infatuation with her ex-boyfriend manifests itself as a risky game, where her former lover agrees to seduce, then abandon a naive young woman.

Release Date:  November 9, 2012

Thoughts: The French novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses has certainly had a staying power since being released in 1782.  That’s partly because its central theme of lust and betrayal really is timeless and can easily be transported to any period of history.  We’ve seen the classical adaptation in the Dangerous Liaisons films from 1959 and 1988 (with Glenn Close) and also in 1989’s Valmont.  Then there’s 1999’s Cruel Intentions, a slick update for the Gen X crowd that worked better than it should have.  Now comes this Shanghai-set Dangerous Liaisons and it appears to be a lush take on the piece with a gorgeous production design.  I get the feeling that 1930’s China will lend itself quite well to our story and the casting of some top drawer stars of Chinese cinema doesn’t hurt either.  Looking forward to this one.