In so many ways — as bubbly romantic comedy, as cultural document, as sharp commentary on the super-wealthy, or as feminist empowerment tale — “Crazy Rich Asians” is a delight, an insightful and most of all funny look at life’s luxury suite.
It’s a life that Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) knows about only from research, as an economics professor specializing in game theory at New York University. As the American daughter of a Chinese immigrant, Kerry (Kueng Hua Tan), she’s had to work to get to where she is in life — which, at the moment, includes a sweet, loving relationship with Nick Young (Henry Golding), a well-to-do businessman from Singapore.
What Rachel doesn’t know is that Nick isn’t just from Singapore, but his family owns a sizable chunk of the country, and is one of Asia’s richest families. How rich? So rich that the family can arrange to have their massive mansion not show up on Google Maps.
Nick invites Rachel to spend spring break in Singapore, where he’s to be best man for his longtime friend Colin Khoo (Chris Pang), who’s marrying the also-rich Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizuno). Rachel agrees, so she can spend time with Nick, meet Nick’s family, and reconnect with her Singaporean college roommate, Peik Lin Goh (played by the rapper Awkwafina).
Rachel gets her first clue of Nick’s family fortune when they get on the plane, and are escorted to a first-class suite that’s bigger than some New York apartments. When she asks if Nick’s family is rich, he replies, “We’re comfortable.” “That’s exactly what a really rich person would say,” she replies.
It’s Peik Lin, living in Versace-clad luxury with her parents (Ken Jeong and Koh Chieng Man), who gives Rachel the full picture. “We’re rich, but they’re crazy rich,” Peik Lin tells Rachel, who soon learns that Nick is also Asia’s most sought-after bachelor, and that most single women in Singapore have already dissected Rachel’s academic profile and personal information (in a social-media montage that’s quick and delightful).
Rachel makes fast friends with Nick’s sister Astrid (Gemma Chan), and gets the lowdown on Nick’s oddball cousins, the image-conscious Eddie (Ronny Chieng) and the aspiring filmmaker Alistair (Remy Hii). But facing Nick’s mother, the imperious family matriarch Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), is going to be Rachel’s toughest challenge of all.
Director Jon M. Chu — whose credits include two “Step Up” dance extravaganzas, a “G.I. Joe” sequel, a Justin Bieber concert film, “Jem and the Holograms” and the magician thriller “Now You See Me 2” — turns out to be the perfect guy for this job. Capturing the lavish lives of Nick’s free-spending relations requires substantial choreography (Colin and Araminta’s wedding is quite the production number), while distilling the detailed cultural commentary of Kevin Kwan’s 2011 novel (adapted to the screen by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Kim) takes considerable finesse to navigate the financial and family ties.
But it’s not all bling and intellectual observations. “Crazy Rich Asians” is, on top of it all, a charming romance, anchored by Wu’s effervescent presence as a smart, caring woman having to reconcile her image of her suave boyfriend with the spectacular wealth in which he was nurtured. And when she applies her game-theory skills to the cutthroat competition going on around her, we the viewers are all winners.
‘Crazy Rich Asians’
Opens Wednesday, August 15, in theaters everywhere. Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language. Running time: 120 minutes.