Crazy Rich Asians review: Singaporn

This is the most expensive tourism ad I’ve ever seen.

 

Premise

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rQHx_GPKccY

 

(and guys)

 

Plot

 

The movie opens on Rachel Chu, an Economics professor at NYU, teaching a lesson on loss aversion. She beats her TA in a hand of poker, then calls him dumb and makes fun of his haircut, to the applause and raucous laughter of an extraordinarily attentive lecture hall. She goes out with her boyfriend, Nick Young, who suggests they attend his friend’s wedding back in his home country of Singapore. At the restaurant, two socialites overhear their conversation and message members of Singaporean high society, alerting everyone in the Young family’s social circle about their imminent arrival.

 

The rest of the movie is basically just a repeating sequence of: Rachel is awed by some cultural facet of Singapore -> Rachel interacts with people who she assumes are nice -> these people turn out not to be nice ->  she gets mad and storms off.

 

Rachel and Nick arrive in Singapore, met by the couple whose wedding they’re going to attend, Colin and Araminta. They’re taken for a drive around the island, and end up in a big food court where Nick flexes his knowledge of the local language and customs. After meeting up with her old college roommate, Peik Lin, Rachel attends a party at the Young estate. She meets Nick’s extended family, including his mother, Eleanor. Eleanor asks Rachel personal questions, then responds with passive-aggressive answers, throwing shade at Rachel’s career (not the fact that she’s in Economics, just the fact that she has a job to begin with), and her upbringing.

 

The next day, Rachel and Nick arrive at an airstrip. The two split off to attend Colin and Araminta’s Bachelor/Bachelorette parties. Rachel meets Amanda, the Young family lawyer and a childhood friend of Nick’s. The two lament the horror of having to spend a full day on an island resort, bonding over their perceived superiority to the other guests. On the island, it’s revealed that Amanda was Nick’s old girlfriend; her jealousy become apparent when she starts giving Rachel backhanded compliments, questioning her loyalty to Nick and telling her that she’s not cool enough to sit at her lunch table. Coming back to her room, Rachel finds the walls adorned with threatening messages written in blood, and a dead fish on her bed. Clearly unappreciative of the clever Godfather homage, she buries the fish on the shore of the beach.

 

Rachel goes back to Nick’s house to make dumplings. After wandering off on her own, she’s cornered by Eleanor, who explicitly tells Rachel that she sucks because she’s American (oof ouch my exceptionalism), and that she’s not “one of them.” Rachel resolves to get back at her by asserting dominance at Colin’s wedding. With the help Peik Lin, and another guy named Oliver, they give her a full makeover and some new clothes (I guess that’s the key to high self-esteem?). She attends Colin’s wedding, where she confronts the Princess? (kinda sketch cause Singapore doesn’t have a monarchy but whatever), and talks to her about Economics. This shocks everyone, as apparently this lady is antisocial and hates talking to people. Rachel receives a temporary boost in confidence (and clout), which quickly dissolves when…

 

At the afterparty, she and Nick get called to a meeting with Eleanor and his grandmother. It’s revealed that Rachel’s father, whom she believed was dead, is actually still alive in China, and that her mother had fled after cheating on him. Nick’s mother chastises him for opening up the family to this type of scandal, and Rachel, understandably upset, leaves the party.

 

Nick tries to get in contact with her, but gets ghosted. He flies Rachel’s mother out to Singapore, who encourages her to talk to him. Rachel meets up with Nick, and he proposes to her. Later, Eleanor walks into a Mahjong parlor, where she meets Rachel. The latter explains that she didn’t want Nick to choose between her and his family, and that she’s going back to New York.

Boarding the plane to NYC, Rachel is intercepted by Nick, who re-proposes, now with his mother’s? ring, and his family’s (implied) blessing. Rachel says yes, and the two attend a rooftop party. Apparently there was a post-credits scene, but no one stayed in the theater to watch it. (It shows Nick’s sister dancing with some guy at a party).

 

Characters

 

Everyone in this movie can be placed on a line going from “most likable” to “not that.” Let’s start at the edges.

 

Astrid: Astrid is introduced as like “a really cool person who’s also a model and fashion icon, but she does charity and cares about her family and stuff.” The first scene with her displays Astrid, in low-key sunglasses and a trench coat, walking through a posh jewelry store. She stops to talk to a small child, whom she compliments, before continuing on into the back, where the jeweler displays all of his new acquisitions. She chooses a pair of earrings and asks how much they are, but he responds that having her wear them will give him a bunch of free publicity (cause everyone loves her and she’s a fashion icon remember), so he’ll give her like a deal. Then, she comes home to her apartment, where she stows away all of her purchases, takes off all her accessories, and goes to read to her son (in French).

 

Now, in this movie’s defense, Astrid didn’t really do anything wrong. In fact, of all the characters, she probably gets fucked over the hardest. Her husband cheats on her, despite her honestly being a great wife. Then they kinda just break up. She doesn’t get any redemption, validation, or a satisfying conclusion. Just depressing honestly.

 

Eleanor: Eleanor’s kind of the worst. I’m not saying that people like this don’t exist, because I’m sure they do, but she’s just such a bad person. She struggles to show even a single shred of compassion, opting instead to just criticize the choices of those around her, with the mindset of “preserving” her family’s integrity. She’s basically just bitter that she didn’t get the Young family’s approval, and dislikes Rachel as a result. The opening scene is supposed to make us sympathetic to her, but it doesn’t go very far in justifying her actions in the rest of the film. There’s also the possibility that this archetype is more common in Asian cultures, and I’m just projecting my imperialist Western values.

 

As for everyone else…

 

The rest: They’re like… fine? Most of the characters in this movie mainly exist to either help Rachel do stuff, work against Rachel doing stuff, or comedic relief. The only people that don’t really fit that description are Colin and Araminta, and their relationship basically sets up the whole movie. I guess everyone’s sort of passively likable, in that they’re generally entertaining to watch.

 

Dialogue

 

To be fair, there were some genuinely good jokes in this movie. I wouldn’t call it a comedic masterpiece, but there were definitely a few times where it got me. On the other hand, the film rarely missed an opportunity to take whatever the obvious joke was from a situation and throw it out. If we’re giving the writers a lot of credit (like, 4 credits), you could maybe argue it was some intentional meta-parody of Rom Coms. I feel like they probably just went for easy jokes, but maybe Pete and Adele are genre-deconstructing masterminds.

 

There are a few scenes that are just kinda weird, like one between Rachel and Nick in a hotel room. I think the purpose was to make the characters more endearing, but I was honestly just confused.

 

I noticed that there were certain expressions that got repeated a lot throughout the movie. It wasn’t quite “tug on braids” level, but definitely there. As an example, characters used the phrase “measure up,” at least four or so times. I guess that might be a more common expression in Singapore, but I’ve rarely heard it said in the States.

 

Finally, some of the dialogue, while OK in the context of the film, sounds really, really stupid once you take it out. At one point, when protesting their upgrade to first class on their flight to Singapore, Rachel exclaims that she and Nick are “economy people.” What a great phrase.

 

Visuals

 

This movie actually has some pretty creative visual effects. There’s one scene in the beginning where a bunch of people are texting each other, and the texts pop up all over the place as the camera pans around them. Then at the end you see all the people looking at their phones in little cut up sections of the frame. It looked cool, and the end of the scene is probably one of the funniest jokes in the movie.

 

On the other hand, some of the scenes, especially the ones at the bachelorette party, looked they were from a reality tv show. Just the way that they were kinda over-lit, combined with the angles, made me feel like I was actually watching The Bachelorette.

 

Cultural Relevance

 

This movie got criticized for its very… narrow depictions of Asian cultures. Basically all of the characters featured in the film are Chinese or Singaporean, and so it sort of leaves out… the other countries. On top of that, since the film focused on what’s probably the most Anglicized country in the East, you get a lot of people with British accents and mannerisms. In that sense, the fact that it took place in Singapore was largely irrelevant to the overall plot. If everything had happened in, say, Vancouver, I don’t think things would’ve gone too differently.

 

Then again, a lot of that criticism is pretty dumb, given that trying to make a movie with every single Asian ethnic group in it probably would’ve led to a weird clusterfuck, more offensive and culturally insensitive than this one. Certain audiences in the US have a fetish for “diversity,” but creating cultural spectacle isn’t the most constructive course of fostering tolerance.

 

As for valid criticism, most of what I’ve seen has to do with social issues within Singapore itself. The film portrays Singapore as a wealthy paradise, largely ignoring the country’s severe inequality. Further, Singapore’s ethnic minorities are totally ignored, with nearly all the characters portrayed being of Asian descent. Again though, you have to consider that a movie about rich people partying in any country will probably result in a very shallow depiction of the population at large. I think it’s unreasonable to expect Rom-Coms to address dialectical materialism or whatever.

 

*References

  1. https://www.scmp.com/comment/insight-opinion/united-states/article/2161470/crazy-rich-asians-poster-child-diversity-its
  2. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/global-opinions/wp/2018/08/21/crazy-rich-asians-misses-the-big-picture-in-singapore-but-its-still-a-step-forward/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.6c416bed4026
  3. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/242593839_Income_Inequality_in_Singapore_Causes_Consequences_and_Policy_Options
  4. https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/inequality-is-a-threat-name-it-and-face-it

 

Miscellaneous Notes

Other than the opening scene, Economics is referenced maybe twice for the rest of the movie. 😥

 

After reading some more about Singapore, the characters are really lucky that no one committed a crime. I guess Nick getting savagely beaten in a Singaporean prison would’ve made for a weird third act.

The girl who sings the Elvis cover at the wedding has an amazing voice.

 

This movie actually kind of subverted my expectations in two ways. When we were told that Rachel’s dad was still alive, I half-expected there to be some kind of twist where her father is actually loaded, and she’s the heiress to some big company, and then everyone loves her. It’s probably good they didn’t do that.

 

Also, during the Mahjong scene, I really thought that Rachel would try and play Eleanor for Nick. And then she’d use her OP Economics skills to destroy her like she did in the opening scene. Instead they went for the sassy monologue. Meh.

 

Conclusion

 

Crazy Rich Asians is honestly probably one of the better romantic comedies to come out recently. While I don’t think it breaks much new ground, the genre is already so saturated, homogenous, and bland that even the simplest “twist” (let’s make all the characters Asian!), goes a long way in making it stand out. While the writing, performances, narrative, and characters are all pretty standard, the movie has a certain level of energy that keeps you engaged, despite watching the same plot you’ve probably seen a million times. Not to mention, the production value is shockingly high. This film certainly isn’t my cup of herbal tea, but I think fans of the genre will almost certainly have a good time. The saccharine positivity this movie presents makes it hard for even the most cynical, bitter, and lonely of us to really hate it. Now get your damn Audis off my lawn.

 

Good for: Rom-Com fans

 

Bad for: Socialists, Democratic socialists, communists, or basically anyone who cares strongly about wealth inequality. (Seriously no one show this to Bernie; man might have an aneurysm).

 

Bod R8s: 4.3/8

 

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