Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a Chinese-American: when she was young, her mother, along with Rachel, ran away from a scoundrel-husband from China to the United States. In the States, the girl received a good education and managed to become the youngest teacher of economics at New York University.
Rachel is dating Nick Young (Henry Golding), a handsome young man from Singapore. Nick lives very modestly and tries to save: he uses Rachel’s Netflix subscription, eats her dessert – and Rachel believes that Nick is from a very poor family. Most likely from a family of goats, yes. But Rachel does not attach any importance to this, because money in this life is not the main thing. The main thing is a career and status in the scientific world.
At some point, Nick invites Rachel to fly to Singapore with him: there, his childhood friend Charlie (Harry Shum Jr.) is going to get married and Nick should be his best man. And at the same time, Nick says serenely, he will introduce Rachel to the family, if such a thing. Family is like family, Rachel agrees. After all, she had always wondered how goatherds lived.
The strangeness began with the plane. It turned out they were flying to Singapore first class, which is very, very expensive. Rachel asks Nick what’s going on, and Nick confesses that he comes from the wealthiest Singaporean family that has been in the construction business for generations. And that his family is fabulously, disgustingly rich. However, Nick does not consider the family’s wealth his own and intends to achieve everything on his own in this life. (Here Bublik choked for the first time.)
During Rachel’s acquaintance with Nick’s family, all sorts of problems began, as expected. Nick’s mom, Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh), doesn’t approve of her son’s choice. Because Rachel, firstly, is a Chinese woman from America, where true Chinese traditions are not honored, and besides, she comes from a poor family, that is, she is no match for Nick. Oh, Rachel won’t fit into our family, Eleanor thinks, oh, won’t.
Moreover, there is already a precedent: Nick’s beloved sister, Singapore style icon Astrid (Gemma Chan), married a man from a poor family and they have continuous problems in their relationship. It’s gotten to the point where Astrid, after returning from a little shopping, is forced to hide Manolo Blahnik shoes and earrings worth one million two hundred dollars in a locker. And how to live like this when there is a misunderstanding in the family?
This is a very curious and unusual project, which I decided to watch out of purely cultural (whatever that means) interest. There is such a writer Kevin Kwan. He was born in Singapore to a very wealthy family and grew up in America. Kwan’s father told his son a lot about Singapore and their family, and as a result, Kevin wrote the book Crazy Rich Asians, which was released in 2013 and immediately became a bestseller, with many companies expressing interest in acquiring the film rights.
Kevin received many offers from major producers – for example, Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendy Deng wanted to buy the rights – but they were all going to make the main character a white American. Because, the producers said to Kwan, you understand: if there are only Asians on the screen, and without martial arts at all, then who will the audience associate themselves with?!! There, in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” a Greek woman married an American – the film turned out to be super-successful. Come on, an American woman will marry a Chinese from Singapore – the audience will tumble down!
But Kevin did not like this approach at all. The whole essence of the book was that it was an ethnic Chinese woman who “made herself” in America who came to the richest Singaporean family. There, in fact, the conflict was largely built on the fact that she is an American Chinese woman, who, like, broke away from her culture. As a result, Kwan refused to sell the film rights to producers who did not want to make the heroine Chinese.
He found understanding with the producer of The Hunger Games, Nina Jacobson, who has her own production company. She suggested that Kwan spit on the big studios and look for funding from the Asian diasporas, from Singaporean and Taiwanese investors. Nina found funding, and Kevin, in order to make his contribution to this project, transferred the rights to the film adaptation for a symbolic one dollar, but it was stipulated that he had every right to control the production process.
The directors invited John Em Chu – the director of commercials with Justin Bieber, “Cobra Throw 2”, “Illusions of Deception 2” and “Step Up 2”. He was chosen, as far as I read, as “a young member of the Chinese diaspora”: Chu’s parents came to America from Taiwan. And in Kwan’s novel, a certain cousin of the heroine is mentioned, who makes films in Hollywood.
The screenplay was written by Pete Chiarelli and Adela Lim, who had to cut off most of the side storylines to fully concentrate on the story of Rachel and Nick.
In the end, Nina Jacobson still found an understanding with the bosses of Warner Bros. Pictures and they bought the rights to rent the picture. At one time, negotiations were also underway with Netflix, which were ready to invest a lot of money in this project and provided complete creative freedom, but it was very important for Kwan and Jacobson to release the film on the big screen.
The role of Rachel was offered to actress Constance Wu from the TV series “Assimilation Difficulties”: it tells about a Chinese family who used to live in Chinatown, and then moved to a small town and began to get used to the life of ordinary Americans. Because of the filming of the series, Constance did not have the same schedule, but she also really wanted to play this role, and Nina and Kevin as Rachel saw only her, and as a result, the start of filming was delayed so that Constance could play Rachel.
Henry Golding got the role of Nick, to a certain extent by accident. In fact – through the junior assistant of the senior janitor. Some lady from the accounting department of the film crew was at some event hosted by Malaysian TV presenter Henry Golding. The lady really liked this charming guy, and she told the producers about him. Those watched his TV shows, invited to the casting, and it turned out that Golding fits perfectly. Except racial purity, because he is half Malay and half English.
But the producers saw no problem with a Malay playing a Chinese, and Golding got the part. Also, Japanese Sonoya Mizuno was cast as the family’s lawyer, Araminta Lee.
Well, the ubiquitous Korean Ken Jong from “The Hangover” and the TV series “Classmates” played the Chinese dad of Rachel’s school friend, and the role of a friend was offered to Aquafina, a famous singer and actress.
Michelle Yeoh from the well-known in the States (and not only there) film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was invited to the most key role in the film – tiger mothers Eleanor. Michelle agreed, but when she read the script, she demanded that her character be made less stubborn and more ambiguous. The producers agreed with her, and I think that the film only benefited from this.
Hello, you will probably say at this moment, so what about the picture, enough long preludes?!
I report. The picture is, in general, the most common rom-com – a romantic comedy with elements of melodrama. However! All the action, with the exception of New York, takes place in terribly rich interiors, in buildings that amaze the imagination with their scale, on a huge cruise ship, in huge lofts on the roofs of Singapore (they were filmed, by the way, also in Malaysia), the heroes of the film wear real designer -designer clothes, they drive very expensive cars, and even the golden loaves there are so simply scattered at every step.
On the one hand, this may seem like a terrible bad taste, but, oddly enough, it looks pretty funny. With all their behavior, the characters of the film seem to say: “Yes, we have a lot of money! But we will not wither over them, like Koschey in distant snowy Russia. We will SPEND them. To fancy mansions, expensive clothes, exotic food, cool cars and incredible parties.”
At the same time, as it should be in a rom-com, a large part of the plot is given to the story of Cinderella – a girl from a poor family who got the crown prince and who is spread rot with terrible force by the mother queen and all sorts of evil princesses who have their own views on the prince.
Before watching the film, I did not study any materials related to its creation. I just knew that there is such a curious phenomenon, so I need to look at it. And while watching, everyone was thinking: is it really so authentic in general, in Singapore, rich Asians are really pulled off like that, or is it all the fruit of the inflamed imagination of Hollywood screenwriters?
Why did I think so? The fact is that no such Chinese-Chinese traditions, about which the tigress mother talked for half the film, are not even observed in the picture. On the contrary, the scenery of the mansions, the style of life and the manner of behavior are reminiscent of a kind of America of the nouveau riche – America, which they kind of do not like.
The decoration of their houses resembles Versailles – and this is directly stated in the film – they listen to American music (sometimes, however, performed in Chinese for a change), they dance American dances, they speak English to each other, and they are religiously – Christians.
Of all the Chinese traditions, there are only dumplings, for which the tiger mother reproaches Rachel for her inability to cook. It seems that as soon as she learns how to cook these dumplings, she will immediately become such a migrant Chinese, because everything else is not too different from her usual American world, but only very, very rich.
Actually, the picture begins with a key flashback scene, when Eleanor with little Nick and Astrid arrives at the expensive and terribly pretentious London Carlston Hotel, where she has booked a suite. The manager sees some nasty Chinese, who, being out of the rain, also polluted their wonderful tiles at the reception, and suggests that they go to their Chinatown. Eleanor asks to be allowed to call, but she is kicked out into the street. There, from a pay phone, she calls her husband, who immediately buys this hotel, and the former manager will have to urgently look for a new job.
We will buy all of you with giblets, they explain to us in this film, because we really don’t have money! See? See?
Yes, we see. All this incalculable wealth is diligently and very magnificently demonstrated in every frame. And there, as far as I read, everything is honest: the clothes are really designer, no fake – in fact, quite a significant part of the budget was spent on it, and I even wonder how they managed to meet only thirty million with such beauty. However, on the other hand, not a single superstar is immediately employed, whose fee is half the budget, so the money was spent exclusively on filming.
Did Bublik and I sympathize with the main character in the episodes where she was tormented by viper princesses? Yes, they sympathized. But only very, very little. Because Cinderella did not have a single chance to return back to her closet America. Of course, she will overcome everything, find her dose of sleeping pills for the tiger mother, marry the handsome prince and become disgustingly rich, God grant them all health and that the first child be a boy.
By the way, the key scene of Rachel’s showdown with Eleanor is just solved in Chinese gracefully, but will be completely incomprehensible to Europeans and Americans who do not understand the intricacies of mahjong. It is in this game that Rachel symbolically informs Eleanor that her goal is Nick’s happiness and she is ready to sacrifice her career for the success and well-being of the Young family, after which Cinderella will be solemnly handed over to the Louboutin dropped at the ball and everything, as expected, will end with a fun wedding in insanely opulent interiors.
I also note that a line of very rigid matriarchy is drawn through the entire film. The men are here only for furniture and do not make any decisions. Women run everything. (Bublik and I, by the way, only welcome this, and completely without jokes.) The main person in the family is grandmother Ah Ma. Something like the Dowager Queen. The queen of the family is Eleanor. There, theoretically, there is also a kinglet somewhere, but he snoops around the backs of the business and does not appear even in honor of the arrival of his adored son, the heir to the entire business.
The heir to the whole business is very charming, very sweet and extremely infantile. Mom, here’s my girl. Mom, why are you like this? Well, yes, she is from America, but she is also very good. Mom, why are you like this? Rachel, honey, don’t worry, everything will be fine.
And not a damn thing will be good until mom wants it, which is clearly shown in the picture. Therefore, you, little boys, ride cars and have fun, and how it will be in the future – mom will decide. Moreover, the decision depends on Rachel, who will have to show that she also has steel dumplings. Which she will definitely learn to sculpt in order to become a real Chinese woman.
Did we like the movie? Yes, I rather liked it. It is very unsophisticated, very rich and very beautiful. Now Bublik and I understand that the Asians will eventually take over this world: they hinted at this very affectionately to us, diligently disguising themselves as a simple romantic comedy. We understood and appreciated this hint. After all, this is what the world needs! Amen!
PS The producers were not mistaken: with a budget of $30 million, the film literally broke the box office and grossed $238 million around the world. It failed only in China: the film was not appreciated there. The producers learned from this: the sequel, which is already being prepared based on Kwan’s second book, will be filmed in close contact with Chinese producers and will partly take place in Shanghai.
Crazy Rich Asians movie meaning
John M. Choo
Michelle Yeoh, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Gemma Chan, Harry Shum Jr., Chris Pang
Budget: $30 million,
International gross: $238 million, Romantic comedy, USA, 2018, 120 min.