Directed by Jon M. Chu
Starring Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Running time: 2 hours
MPAA rating: PG-13
by Jaime Davis
Yesterday I went swimming with sharks and stingrays in the ocean off the coast of the Dominican Republic with my family, and I almost didn't do it. Why? Well, because scared. That's why.
I'm kinda famous for being one of them scaredy-cats upfront - afraid to try new things at first, even though deep down I really wanna do all the stuff. Even though there's a voice inside warning me that if I don't do it, I'll regret it. For the past few years whenever the mere prospect of something freaks me out, that same voice says, "Jaime, if it scares you, then you have to do it." When my mom first asked if I wanted to go on this particular shark and stingray excursion, 'Fraidy Jaime was all hell nah woman! But then my inner guide or whatever was like "Girl, if you sit by the pool all day reading Big Little Lies while everyone else goes snorkeling and looks at sharks and the reef and shit you are gonna be one salty little B." So I said I would go, but not without expressing my anxiety every 12.45943 minutes to any innocent family members who would kindaaaa listen. One of my sisters, Danielle, who has zero fear filter, teased me profusely. My mini-anxiety rants caused my mom to get all worried about me. And then we went. And everything was...fine. More than fine. It was great. Why can't I just let fear go?
After the swimming part, the tour guides took us on a catamaran around the coast on a little adventure. Eventually, the sky darkened, the wind swooped in, and buckets of rain descended on us unmercifully. Me and my mom and brother and sisters, huddled and shivering under our beach towels on the top of the boat, were ushered downstairs underneath to wait out the rain. We were on an excursion with a number of other tourists, and there was one man there who made all of us just, well, happy. Thinking about him now makes me smile. First of all, he's from Chicago, and since it's my hometown, I automatically love him for that. I have serious Midwestern / Chicago bias and yes I'm team Giordano's not Malnati's and my family is evenly split between Sox and Cubs fans so family functions can get reallll interesting. Second of all, after my brave af sis Danielle was taken underwater by a guide to pet a shark, Chicago Guy saw it, promptly freaked his shit, and couldn't stop telling everyone animatedly about the girl who touched a shark. And while we waited out the rain, we noticed Chicago Guy, his wife, and their two children downstairs. By this time he'd made friends with everyone on the catamaran - you know the type: infectious smile, talks to everyone in a caring, warm way, like an old friend, and just generally comes off as the type who appreciates their life as a very grateful, honest, happy human. By the end of our tour, he and his equally lovely wife had us all line dancing on the back of the boat with people who ran the excursion. Just a bunch of virtual strangers doing the electric slide and the cupid shuffle together, nothing to see here. It was one of those organic celebratory moments you can't recreate or force - I mentally filed it away as one of the best moments of this girls' lil life. And I almost missed out on it, all because of yes, that word again - f e a r.
And, believe it or not, this all makes me think of Crazy Rich Asians. In 2017, I was offered a job out of the blue from a Chinese educational consulting firm. There were some competing, shouting voices in my head - "Scary, don't do it!" "But if it's scary, you have to!" The second voice miraculously won out, and I picked up Crazy Rich Asians at the bookstore, thinking it might better prepare me for the work I would be doing, primarily with the children of some Very Rich Asians, not necessarily the Crazy Rich kind. Kevin Kwan's 2013 sizzling novel is like if a beach read had a literary baby with Austen's greatest hits and the plot, about an unassuming American-born Chinese economics professor who falls for this hot ass dude in NYC, only to find out bro is like, totally part of one of the richest Chinese families in Singapore, reeled me in from chapter one. Crazy Rich Asians is no anthropological study, and I don't recall what I was looking for exactly from the book, but I do remember very distinctly all the FEAR I had about my new job and hoping it would assuage some of it. My new role required me to work remotely, to set my own hours, to work independently 97.438% of the time and travel to China multiple times per year. I mean, I love traveling, but China? It's never been on my bucket list because...yes, yes, scared. It's so different than the West! And why can't I get a job for some Crazy Rich Europeans? Once I started easing into the book, however, my original reasons for reading quickly washed away...I just fell right in love with all the characters. Angelic Astrid, with a weakness for exquisite jewelry, her family's wishes, and her philandering husband. Peik Lin, whose charismatic, carefree view of the world is beyond infectious. Uber-wealthy Nick Young, who just wants a chance at real life out of the spotlight back home. Who wants to do what he loves instead of taking over the family businesses. Who fights to be with the woman he loves, Rachel Chu. Rachel, an ABC raised by a single mother, knows she's hit the jackpot in the love department with Nick - poor thing has zero understanding of what's about to come when Nick whisks her to Singapore to meet his family for the first time. But don't you worry about all the lady scheming and Mommy Dearest-ing that comes Rachel's way during their trip - because our dear heroine of the story, unlike me, has no fear. Her spirit and kindness and wit are the driving force of the book. And that's why I love her character the most.
The film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians, while slightly condensed, doesn't disappoint. You may have heard the entertainment industry applauding theyselves for putting together a star-studded all-Asian cast. Welllllll, considering the book's cast is all-Asian, why be so proud? Hollywood shoulda been doing this shit for decades, and it took them until 2018 to do it. Yes, you'll become immersed in the tug of war between Nick, his family, and Rachel. Yes, you'll get swept up into a world of such intense wealth - woman gets slighted at a ritzy hotel and then buys it 10 minutes later as a fuck you type of wealth. But there are some very funny folks in this and some very entertaining moments. You have Awkwafina as Rachel's college roomie and Singaporean bestie Peik Lin - who pretty much steals all the moments and prolly should have had more screentime. Ken Jeong plays her jolly gaudy father Wye Mun Goh with panache. Nico Santos, most recognizable from Superstore, is hilarious as the family fixer Oliver T'sien. Ronny Chieng, of Daily Show fame, embodies uptight fashionista Eddie Cheng so well I couldn't help but smile every time he was on screen barking at his children or poor wife. Jimmy O. Yang, who many may recognize from Silicon Valley, has a small role as poor unsuspecting rich boy Bernard Tai - if a second film is made off the second book in the series (cause you guys, there are THREE books!) he may feature a little more prominently. And Selena Tan, as one of Nick's mom's friends, Alix, has some fun moments throughout.
And fun is all around in Crazy Rich Asians. Yes, there's some drama between Nick's grandmother, mother, extended cousins, and friends, wreaking havoc on Rachel's chances for happiness. But Rachel, bless her, she don't back down. God, I love this woman - I want her to give me some no-fear pep talks like, every five minutes. There's a memorable scene between Rachel (the effervescent Constance Wu) and Nick's mother (Michelle Yeoh) over a strategic game of mahjong that I won't soon forget (and don't recall from the book) that shows the depths of Rachel's fortitude. It made me root for her 345% more.
Who knows if they'll adapt the other two books (China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems) into films or not. The screening I went to a couple of weeks ago had Jimmy O. Yang, author Kevin Kwan, and Gemma Chan, who plays the ethereal Astrid, all in attendance. Gemma had some wise words for the audience: "Everyone should go see this so that maybe they'll let Asians make another movie." I mean, we all know who the "they" in this sentence is. And as unfortunate as it sounds, Hollywood is looking to us, the audience, to see if we want these kinds of stories. They're scared. They got the fear too. Well, duh, of course we want more of these kinds of stories. We want to watch films about all kinds of people, for and by those folks. We need it. We demand it. Without diversity, we falter. We stagnate. Where is the fun in watching yet another Kate Hudson impossibly white rom com where she plays a plucky ad exec/fashion designer/magazine writer who meets her match in some studly white dude and they peacock around each other ridiculously for almost two hours until ugh, finally getting together? It's up to us, you guys.
The ending features the Crazy Rich Asians cast at a huge ass party atop one of the most expensive buildings in all of Singapore. It may be the farthest cry from 30 regular folks dancing on the back of a catamaran off the coast of the Dominican Republic, but fun times are fun times. So let's all go see this so that yes, Asians get to make another movie. Have no fear - Crazy Rich Asians is worth every minute.