Audrey Kupferberg: Crazy Rich Asians

Sep 18, 2018

I can’t stop thinking about the recent theatrical release CRAZY RICH ASIANS.  In its first two weeks, this film grossed more than ninety million dollars.  Why do people so enjoy this movie, and why do they recommend it to their cinema-going friends?

CRAZY RICH ASIANS is a romantic comedy featuring an Asian cast. There are no star names in this cast, and yet it is the strength and appeal of the cast that is one of the most outstanding assets of this film. The male lead, Henry Golding, a British/Malaysian travel host and model, has never before appeared in a feature film.  Female lead Constance Wu may not be a powerful name in feature films, but she did win Critics Choice Awards for Best Actress in a Comedy series and other accolades for her work in the TV series FRESH OFF THE BOAT. 

Most of the plot takes place in Singapore.  This is another major asset.  Singapore looks like a futuristic fantasy land.  What a fabulous skyline!  According to Wikipedia, since 1939, 4300 high rises have been constructed in the city-state of Singapore.  In the city there are 80 skyscrapers.  CRAZY RICH ASIANS takes every opportunity to notice the beauty and power of these buildings.

You may or may not have seen this film yet, but you already know that one of the themes is wealth.  It’s a film that worships all the extravagance that money can buy.  Scene after scene features fashion, décor, and commercial splendor.  I’m speaking of flash and dazzle, not good taste. And, yes, in one overly ornate household the characters even joke about the gold Trump bathroom at Trump Tower!

So...  With a cast of almost entirely Asian actors who put in very fine work, with a colorful and at times fascinating locale, why does this movie fall short?  Most of the blame falls on the script, which is shallow.  As a romantic comedy, the plot needs to take twists and turns in a couple’s courtship.  This zigzagging route to happiness should include lots of nuances.  That’s where the screenplay’s creativity is most at work.  There should be cleverly constructed incidents. There should be sweet or painful imaginative moments of reflection and resolution.  However, in CRAZY RICH ASIANS, the plot lacks any but the most cliched turns. Instead, the movie focuses on colorful, trendy fashions and tacky opulence.  The beauty of Singapore’s skyline becomes drowned in colored lights and the splash of vulgar fountains. 

Since many audience members apparently are contented with their viewing experience, and a sequel already is in the works, it’s clear that I have a minority opinion.  It makes me sad that so many viewers are content to admire the glitziness of CRAZY RICH ASIANS and seem to excuse its lack of imagination!  On the whole this film is mainly about the admiration of ostentation, and its talented cast are for the most part wasted on a stale script.

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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