Talk about your book-to-film fast-tracks. Kevin Kwan published his book, Crazy Rich Asians, in 2013 and one year later, the film rights were picked up! A bidding war ensued between Netflix and Warner Bros and, originally meant to be a straight-to-cable release, the studios opted out for a theatrical offering to the public. Thanks, guys!
In the first major Hollywood movie since 1993’s Joy Luck Club to feature Asian-Americans in predominant leading roles, this tried ‘n’ true ‘girl-meets-boy, girl-loses-boy, girl-gets-boy-back-again’ story centers around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), an economics professor at NYU who is in love with her hunky, boy-toy, Nick Young (Henry Golding). As it turns out, Nick’s buddy back home in Singapore is getting married and he’s the best man, so why not bring his girlfriend there to meet the folks? Sounds like fun, right?
But Rachel is in for a shocker when she finds out that dear, sweet Nick is rich. Not just rich, mind you, but filthy, stinkin’, unimaginably decadent and obscenely dripping in wealth RICH! Heir to the family fortune (and considered a Prince), Rachel meets Nick’s family, starting with his acerbic and hard-core mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) who, as you probably guessed, hates Rachel. Rachel also meets her rich former college roomie and comic relief, Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina -yes, that’s her name, not the water), along with other family members of Nick’s who are having problems of their own.
Through the outrageous and million-dollar bachelor and bachelorette parties being thrown, Rachel has her eyes open to the kinds of people that Nick associates with. Some are sweet and nurturing, like Nick’s philanthropic cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and his gay fashionista cousin Oliver (Nico Santos), but others are heartless like Nick’s former girlfriend and lawyer, Amanda (Jing Lusi). But the biggest hurdle is crossing swords with patriarch and racist Eleanor who can’t stand Chinese-Americans and will do everything in her power to stop Nick from making a huge mistake.
Oh, sure, you’ve seen this story told before from Sullivan’s Travels to Arthur to Pretty Woman and many more. But screenwriters Peter Chiarelli (The Proposal) and newbie Adele Lim (only TV series like Reign and Lethal Weapon) just adapted Kwan’s novel into a standard, clichéd plot that’s been told dozens of times before, but this time with an all-Asian cast as the hook. However, what makes THIS story stand apart are the multiple other storylines thrown in for extra some flavor. Besides Rachel and her woes, you get other side-plots from the other family members (remember, it’s Crazy Rich Asians--with an ‘S’) for some added, albeit all too brief, soap-opera shenanigans.
Having directed some awful films (Now You See Me 2, Jem and the Holograms), Jon M. Chu nonetheless showed real passion for this romantic comedy, a far cry from all those ridiculous Step-Up movies he did. Another class-act here are the actors, who are all drop-dead beautiful and runway-model handsome… and almost all speak with a British accent! Constance Wu is delightful as an innocent thrust into the world of high society and snobbery, while Golding holds his own as a ‘mama’s boy’ trying to break out. But it’s veteran star Michelle Yeoh that really nails her role with a scathing bite and look that could slice you in two.
Director Chu also gives us something else in this picture: a travelogue! As if he’s filming for the Travel Channel, Chu shows us the incredible food and architecture of Singapore as our cast drives around the beautiful and pristine city. The Marina Bay Sands Casino alone is jaw-dropping! Yes, you’ve seen this kind of movie before, but this one has a few surprises in store for you with a great cast and some rather funny moments, especially for all you romantics out there.
David Sheffield and Barry W. Blaustien (Murphy’s The Nutty Professor I & II) wrote this hysterical screenplay under the glorious direction of John Landis, who was a master of the comedy take. Murphy and Hall played off each other like real life brothers, making their timing electric. From start to finish, the movie just sizzles with comedy (much like Landis’ Trading Places with Murphy and Dan Aykroyd) that you have to LOL.
The BIG controversy was the script; writer Art Buchward had submitted a treatment to Paramount called King For A Day in 1982, but was rejected. Then in 1987, Murphy claimed HE came up with the exact same story! After the movie was released, Buchwald sued and won!