Friday, September 21, 2018

Crazy Rich Asians – A Tale as Old as Austen, With a Side of Dumplings 


“Crazy Rich Asians” is worth seeing. The sudsy smash based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel is a cultural phenomenon, and for good reason. It’s the first major Hollywood film since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club” to feature an all-Asian cast minus the martial arts, and it’s topping the box office for the third week in a row.  

As an Asian-American, this matters to me.  

For most of my movie-watching life, characters who looked like me never acted like me. Take Long Duk Dong in “Sixteen Candles,” an Asian-American cliché whose stilted English devolved into an ongoing dirty joke. Or the fat, nerdy boy scout in “Up.” And don’t get me started on Lucy Liu in, well, every movie she’s ever made.  

I had to go back to 1992 – to Tia Carrere’s metalhead glam-girl in Wayne’s World – to find a multi-dimensional major Asian character in a mainstream movie.  

Then, like the sound of a gong, came “Crazy Rich Asians.”  

We lay our scene in Instagrammable Singapore, whose tourism revenues will surely benefit from the film’s success. Private jets! Beauty queens! Million-dollar earrings purchased on a whim! Gorgeous men…who happen to be Asian…with British accents!  

But, while the races and faces and places are new, the story – just like the money – is old.  

Rachel Chu, an NYU economics professor with “Gap chic” fashion sense, is dating Nick Young, Singapore’s most eligible bachelor. Taking a page from “Coming to America,” Nick declines to mention his family’s dynastic wealth during their entire courtship. But, when he brings her home to Singapore for a family wedding, the cat leaps out of the Gucci bag, claws and all.  

The rest of the plot is saccharine and familiar. It’s Jane Austen, but with a heroine who reads The Economist and doesn’t want Nick’s family money so long as it comes with Nick’s family mishegas. And that’s why the movie works. Like its soundtrack of Asian pop stars singing Western hits in Cantonese, we already know all the beats by heart. And we’re already singing along.  

Now showing at Marco Movies. 

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