NEW GIRL IN TOWN
Main Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding
Director: Jon M. Chu
Hello all of my friends out there in the dark. I am writing to you from somewhere in mid-Pacific waters as Captain Drew continues to head my luxurious yacht in a vaguely Westerly direction. He seems to be busy plotting things on charts up on the bridge so I’m thinking he must know vaguely where we are. I’m enjoying my time on shipboard, away from the usual hustle and bustle of a busy star’s life and it’s given me some time to reflect on the triumphs and tragedies of 2018, a year that will go down in infamy at Casa Maine due to the unforeseen and catastrophic loss of Normy. As a last task before we left port, I decided to rechristen the yacht the Normitainia. The ship painter wasn’t available, so we’ve duct taped a piece of white canvas to the stern with the new name carefully drawn in black magic marker. The local 7-11 also did not carry fine champagne, and, as we were in a hurry to get underway, I had to smash a bottle of Mad Dog 40 over the prow. It only slightly stained the teak decking when it splashed.
Captain Drew seems to have picked up a crew from somewhere in Long Beach who answer to the names Miguel, Miguel, and Miguel and who do not seem to comprehend my English, no matter how slowly and loudly I speak to them. They seem to know what they are about on shipboard so I’m not paying it much mind. And they certainly understand the words margarita and tequila sunrise as I only have to whisper them, and a fresh drink appears at my elbow while I sit on deck with my notepad creating brilliant new ideas for film and stage projects with an Asiatic flair. Annie Get Your Gurkha Rifle, about a young Punjabi woman who becomes a top marksman and favorite of Queen Victoria would have a central role befitting a star of my stature and I can just see There’s No Business Like Snow Business sung and danced by the cast as characters from the Ramayana on the slopes of the Himalayas after Annie persuades the locals to open India’s first modern ski resort.
Internet reception is a little bit spotty out here in the ocean but occasionally a few things are able to download into my trusty laptop. One of them was the recent film, Crazy Rich Asians, which was a modest hit this past summer. Given its title, I thought it might be a wonderful way to begin research on Asian cultures and perhaps see who’s who among working Asian actors as I am sure there will be some supporting parts available on whatever my next epic will be. It’s based on ‘The International Bestseller’ by Kevin Kwan which I never read nor ever saw in any bookstore that I have frequented but I’ll take their word for it. The film adaptation was written by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim and, showing the lack of Asian representation amongst the top ranks of the US entertainment industry, the directing chores were given to Jon M. Chu, best known for unnecessary sequels to such films as Step Up and Now You See Me. It’s about time Hollywood got around to telling an Asian centric story in a major studio release. The last one I can remember is The Joy Luck Club and that was a generation ago.
The tale is a simple one, more or less borrowed from Cinderella and dozens of Hollywood romantic comedies spanning decades. After a brief prologue in which we meet the formidable Eleanor Young (Michelle Yeoh) as a younger woman, we fast forward a couple of decades to meet her now grown son Nick (Henry Golding) who lives in New York and has a girlfriend, Rachel (Constance Wu). Rachel is the typical Asian American success story. Her mother (Tan Kheng Hua) emigrated to give her daughter opportunities, worked hard and sacrificed and now Rachel is a professor of Game Theory at NYU. Nick’s best friend from childhood back in Singapore, Colin (Chris Pang) is getting married and Nick asks Rachel to come back with him for a week of fun, festivity, and meet the family. Rachel, despite her immense intelligence and education appears to have never heard of Google and she’s the only Asian on several continents who is unaware that Nick Young is the heir to the enormous Young fortune of Singapore and that is people aren’t just rich, but crazy rich. Word soon spreads, first among the American Asian community, and then (in a cute sequence) via various social media that Nick Young is bringing a girl home and soon all of upper crust Singapore society is bubbling. Rachel sees this as a good time to reconnect with her college roommate Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who also lives in Singapore. She starts to realize something’s up when their flight is first class as Nick’s family have major ownership in the airline.
Nick starts to explain (and we meet) his extended family including his cousins Eddie (Ronny Chieng), an uptight businessman in an unhappy marriage, Alistair (Remy Hill) a wastrel movie producer, and Astrid (Gemma Chan) whose marriage is foundering due to her husband’s insecurities about her wealth. Everyone is curious about Nick’s serious girlfriend but mama Eleanor, in charge of the family, has serious reservations. One senses she’s had to deal with any number of gold diggers and false friends over time. Behind Eleanor is Nick’s seemingly benign, but equally formidable grandmother (Lisa Lu) who truly controls the strings of filial piety and duty. Will Rachel win her man? Will there be romantic complications? Will that game theory background come in handy? Will fabulously rich characters wear endless varieties of gorgeous clothes? If you can’t answer all of these questions in about five seconds after the film begins, you’ve never seen a romantic comedy.
I liked Crazy Rich Asians very much. While the plotting is pretty much by the numbers, the exotic locale and use of stunning locations throughout Singapore make it a feast for the eyes. The costume department (design by Mary E. Vogt), in particular, had a ball coming up with glamorous gown after glamorous gown for all of these attractive actresses to wear at scenes set at house parties, hotel parties, beach parties, and finally the climactic wedding. The Marina Bay Sands hotel in particular, with its iconic three towers supporting what looks like a cruise ship on top practically becomes a character in its own right. As we travel with Rachel and our eyes are opened with hers to the luxury (and banality) of the world of the super-rich, the filmmakers are wise enough to keep enough distance for us to make our own judgments about these characters and their trappings.
Crazy Rich Asians has a huge cast. There’s at least two dozen major roles, all played by Asian actors and all impeccably cast. Each creates a unique individual and sketches them in within a scene or two so that we’re never wondering who is whom or what relationships they have with each other. Michelle Yeoh, queen of Chinese action films in her younger years, brings all her wisdom from years in front of the camera to the imperious Eleanor. It would be easy to make her into a dragon lady villain as she is the antagonist, but both director and actress are wise enough to eschew that and we retain sympathy for her, even when she makes decisions or takes actions that counter Rachel’s desires. The supporting cast are a riot. Awkwafina, who is in actuality a New York rapper, is insanely adorable as the nouveau riche Peik Lin whose family live in a home that could best be described as Versailles meets velvet Elvis paintings. Lisa Lu as grandmother also has moments as do Gemma Chan and Jimmy Yang as Bernard, the douchey frat bro of the wedding party. In the central roles, Henry Golding and Constance Wu are fine, very attractive, and a believable couple but they have to play straight men to all of the craziness surrounding them and they just don’t get as many stand out moments.
Crazy Rich Asians is definitely worth a look, and hopefully will wake Hollywood up to the stories remaining to be told by communities other than the Euro-centric. If nothing else, it should help introduce American audiences to the wonderful talent in the Asian community.
Symbolic dumplings. Symbolic Mahjong. Symbolic engagement ring. Stuffed tiger. Walking on water. Dead fish in bed. Gratuitous Harry Shum Jr. Idiotic gold digging starlet. Hidden shoes. Chinese Vogue problem. Scandalous backstory.
Originally from Seattle Washington, land of mist, coffee and flying salmon, Mrs. Norman Maine sprang to life, full grown like Athena, from Andy’s head during a difficult period of life shortly after his relocation to Alabama.