The movie of the year “Crazy Rich Asians,” arrived this past August, rocking Hollywood with its glitz, insane romance and, let’s not forget, its all Asian cast—the first since “The Joy Luck Club,” released in the early 1990’s!
Adapted from The New York Times bestselling novel by Kevin Kwan, the movie explores the lavish life of imperialistic Chinese society. It follows the love story between the hunky scion, Nick Young, and his commoner girlfriend and NYU professor of economics, Rachel Chu. When Nick is tasked with the role of Best Man at his best friend’s wedding in Singapore, Rachel is exposed to Nick’s true roots of wealth and esteem—full of first class flight tickets, a glamorous bash thrown by the Chinese elites (aka Nick’s entire family), and a wild bachelorette party filled with unlimited shopping, spa services, and booze. Although Rachel and Nick are destined for a happily-ever-after back in New York, their love faces troubles when opposed by the super-power Young family, forcing Nick to choose between familial obligation and the love of his life.
One of the better romantic comedies of the time, this movie conveys real life adversity between two lovers from vastly different worlds and explores the perpetual conflict between individualism and tradition. But did this movie successfully convey Kevin Kwan’s mission to expose not only the lavish ways of the high-society Chinese, but also the individual beneath all of the money? Or is it overpowered by the dramatic love story between Rachel and Nick?
This can be debated. The book gives about five hundred pages of details on the opulent life of Chinese gurus and emphasizes archaic family traditions and commitment—arguably impossible to condense into a two-hour blockbuster film. A New York Times article wrote that the film “can feel a bit rushed and cramped.” Although the film does portray their lavish lifestyle, it cuts out specific details contributing to character development that allows the audience to understand that under this smothering wealth, each character has a deeper level that makes them relatable, and most times, admirable.
Take one of the preliminary scenes in the movie: Nick’s cousin, Astrid, is introduced in a “high-profile” jewelry boutique. Astrid is taken into a private showroom and given an exclusive selection of jewels to choose from, with price tags just starting in the six-figures. In the movie, the scene is quick and gives the audience a taste of the excessive wealth these elitists drown in. However, in the book a different tone is communicated—discretion, appreciation, and friendship is the focus of this scene. Told through a third-person omniscient voice, Astrid walks into the shop and embraces the jeweler, Stephen, an old friend. Stephen’s internal monologue takes this relationship deeper by reminiscing on their “crazy younger days in Paris.” Astrid admires the pieces but “couldn’t care less about the size, and was never interested in ostentatious pieces.” Kwan’s mission with the book is to convey each character as an individual, to distinguish their true heart from their superficial façade. This scene does just that. It is a testimony to Astrid’s authentic soul, as well as her inconspicuous ways.
Although throughout the film Astrid is portrayed in the same gentile, whole hearted, manner; detailed scenes throughout the book such as this one are what makes this novel enchanting—and causes the movie to be a touch less amiable.
The lack of some character development is compensated by the epic love story. In fact, it is what makes the audience so invested in the characters. For instance, through the sly, crude comments thrown at Rachel from Nick’s family and friends, and through becoming the target for awful pranks at a “fabulous” bachelorette party, the audience empathizes with Rachel and recognizes the struggle she is facing to keep her love alive. On the other hand, one can understand the pull between love and tradition within family, a huge conflict Nick struggles to overcome throughout the entire film.
In the ultimate show-down, Rachel confronts Nicks mother over a game of Mahjong and fights for her love with Nick, coming out the victor in the duel. The audience held back from leaping out of their seats to celebrate with the courageous Rachel Chu and bask in the victory. Erica Wilk, a fellow audience member and undergraduate college student stated, “I couldn’t believe she confronted his mom…I was literally cheering Rachel on the entire movie!”
This scene actually does not exist in the book, but it contributes to the Hollywood drama-romance which made this film so addicting. The adaptation is keen to communicating the emotional power-struggle between these two leading characters. It gave not only Rachel closure, but the audience as well.
Full of laughs, passion, and drama, the couple navigates their relationship and Singapore, making this film and love story a full-blown success. By the end of the film the audience is exposed to the whims of the wildly rich, and with rumors of a sequel currently being produced, everyone is left waiting to see what these “Crazy Rich Asians” will treat us to next!