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Crazy Rich Asians

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Hollywood rom-com breaks through glass ceiling

Crazy Rich Asians (12A)
Running time 2hr
Rating: **

EVERYONE’S going craaaaazy over Crazy Rich Asians – and the film is, in fairness, a veritable glass ceiling-buster, the first
Western movie to feature a predominantly Asian cast. Commendably, it sets its laser sights on the racial typecasting that’s blighted American cinema for all too long – the male leads, far from submissive caricatures, are competent rom-com hunks, while its female characters are all formidable, independent-minded professionals.

The prologue, which sees racist London hotel staff served their just deserts by the new Singaporean management, relays the movie’s torch-passing mission statement with relish and gusto. Then, just as we’ve settled into something warmly amusing, stylishly unsubtle and ever-so-slightly subversive, Crazy Rich Asians does something rather cruel – it embarks on a path trodden black by more than a decade of chick flicks. At its most downright fatuous, the film resembles a promotional piece for the Singapore Tourism Board, all skyscrapers and beaming migrant workers; at its tasteless worst, it strays into wealth porn (picture a latter-day, Far Eastern Downton Abbey that keeps the British accents and eschews much of the actual drama). Altogether, there’s scarcely a cliché it leaves untouched.

New York economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is dating Nick (Henry Golding) – he’s English-educated, oh-so-dishy and a scion of the hyper-wealthy Young dynasty, rendering him Singapore’s most eligible bachelor.
Somehow, Rachel hasn’t cottoned on to his celebrity yet (we are able to forgive the film this gaping plot hole only on the strength of Wu’s likeable performance); after Nick proposes a trip to the old country, they find themselves ushered into the first-class section of the plane, prompting little in the way of soul-searching (Nick shrugs the whole thing off with the suggestion that his family “do business” with the airline) and a sudden slide into the realms of soulless chic (Rachel’s in-flight pyjamas are apparently more elegant than any clothes she’s got at home). Brace yourselves, for this is just the beginning – Chu is about to be thrust into a world of mansions, sportscars and hostile, ultra-glam potential mothers-in-law (Michelle Yeoh).

While director Jon M Chu is clearly trying for a fish-out-of-water effect – little could have prepared Rachel for this world of excess and stuffed tigers, his camera, prone to train itself longingly on extravagant jewellery and colonial frontispieces, betrays sleazier motives. The film packages an ostensibly damning commentary in glitz of the most garish order, to such a degree that you never know quite where its passé plot is coming from. Critics stateside (where it’s gone down a storm) have dubbed Crazy Rich Asians the new My Big Fat Greek Wedding; however, it can only pale in comparison to the latter, which packed in an abundance of belly laughs without any of this movie’s tawdriness. The focus – especially in the second act – is decisively on the ‘rich’ part of the title; the film’s idea of ‘craziness’ begins and ends at the sort of things the chronically overpaid get up to on their weekends, and it all feels far too aesthetic to elicit a sense of comic profligacy à la The Wolf of Wall Street. Even a bachelor party on a re-purposed freighter ship, awash with cocaine and bikini models, plays out like a particularly tame episode of My Super Sweet 16.

While Crazy Rich Asians boldly shuns racial stereotyping, its gender politics (there’s cat-fighting and gormless males aplenty) leave much to be desired; the film is, however, far too contrived to offend. There are moments when this does feel like a worthy comedy (Awkwafina, Ken Jeong and Nico Santos carry the film through the bulk of its droller sections); for the most part, however, it’s a painfully innocuous family saga that’s keener to stick to a tried-and-tested Hollywood formula than to make good on its exciting, laudable premise.

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