‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is a watershed moment for cultural representation

Jon M. Chu’s romcom extravaganza enjoyed a stellar opening weekend atop the box office.

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After months of anticipation prior to release, “Crazy Rich Asians” debuted to a $26 million opening weekend with a five-day total of $34 million. The film is the biggest romantic comedy debut since Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck” in 2015, but more notably is also the first all-Asian cast studio release since “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993, roughly a quarter of a century ago. Directed by Jon M. Chu (“Now You See Me 2”) from a script by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim, the movie is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name.

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) and Nick Young (Henry Golding) are economics and history professors at New York University. She’s a Queens girl who was raised by her single mother; he’s a secret heir to Singapore’s wealthiest developers. When Nick invites Rachel on a trip back home for a friend’s wedding, the couple’s relationship is tested by class divides, family hierarchies and unabashed jealousy. Save for a reunion with a friend from college (the scene-stealing Awkwafina), Rachel is scrutinized by those who deem her an unfit addition to the Young family.

Historical value aside, this romantic comedy is of the most entertaining movies of the summer. It’s an age-old epic and an irresistible fantasy featuring a plethora of supporting characters and subplots. What the script lacks in originality it more than makes up for in scope and Chu’s polished direction. The production design features so many glamorous set-pieces that it’s hard to believe it was made on a budget of $30 million. Known mostly for his dance and concert films, Chu adds all kinds of cinematic flourishes including a montage of Asian cuisine that would most accurately be described as “food porn.” There’s another glitzy sequence that tracks a snapshot of Nick and Rachel from a cafe in Brooklyn all the way over to his mother across the globe.

For some key final moments, Chu uses a Mandarin cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” The color can carry a negative connotation in Asian culture, yet it is subverted in these emotional ending scenes. Subtextual elements like this are likely present throughout the whole screenplay, most of which going right over my head. So the film may not be a total reinvention of its genre, but it is a sly revolution for the simple fact that it’s never been done this way before.

Following the film’s triumphant launch, Warner Bros. is moving forward with the development of a sequel based on the second book in Kevin Kwan’s trilogy. The plan is to bring back the original team, including the producers, director and writers. Turning down a big payday at Netflix for wide theatrical distribution was risky, but “Crazy Rich Asians” is a runaway success story with a hard-earned happy ending.

Edited by Siena DeBolt | sdebolt@themaneater.com

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