One of the nicest experiences you can have in the movies involves surprise. You go in expecting one thing only to find something completely different.
And, of course, I mean different in a good way.
That’s exactly what happened when I went to see “Crazy Rich Asians.” All I knew about the film going in was that one of its cast members was Ken Jeong, the Korean-American comic actor who plays a particularly wild character in all three “Hangover” movies.
Jeong’s presence, plus the film’s title, led me to think that “Crazy Rich Asians” was going to be a blend of “The Hangover” and “Bridesmaids” with every Asian stereotype that Hollywood could possibly come up with.
I couldn’t have been more wrong. “Crazy Rich Asians,” it turns out, is the kind of romantic comedy that Hollywood has been making since the days of Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. The only real difference is the complexion of the cast.
Constance Wu plays Rachel Chu, an economics professor at New York University. For the past year, Rachel has been dating Nick Young (played by Henry Golding). Nick is a hunk of a guy who – for good reason – thinks Rachel is the cat’s meow. Yet she is surprised, pleased but surprised, when he asks her to accompany him to his best friend’s wedding.
A wedding that will take place in his home country of Singapore. Where Rachel will, for the first time, meet Nick’s family.
And the parade of Rachel’s surprises is just beginning. They fly not just in first class but in the kind of comfort fit for royalty. That’s when Rachel discovers that Nick is not the unassuming young urban professional she thought but, instead, is the heir to one of Singapore’s biggest fortunes.
Finally, Rachel learns that Nick’s family – especially his mother (played by Michelle Yeoh) – is both protective of Nick and convinced that she isn’t right for the man who is expected to take over the family business.
So the scene is set: Does Rachel have what it takes to win the man she loves? Does Nick have the nerve to oppose his family and pursue a future with the woman he loves? Will the back-biting friends and family ever allow this affair to bloom? Good questions, though the answers aren’t all that hard to figure out.
So, no, “Crazy Rich Asians” doesn’t boast a particularly original plot, even if it is based on Kevin Kwan’s semi-autobiographical novel. Instead, the quality resides both in the cast – all of whom indeed have Asian roots – and in the skill director Jon M. Chu displays in handling a tried-and-true movie formula.
Wu and Golding are totally convincing as our protagonist lovers, but also solid are the performances by Yeoh, by Gemma Chan as Nick’s beautiful cousin Astrid and rap artist Awkwafina as Rachel’s college friend.
Yes, director Chu does employ a number of Asian stereotypes. But amid the jokes and exaggerated postures, he also captures a sense of Asian authenticity.
And in the process he gives this decades-old Hollywood blueprint a welcome, refreshing makeover.