In the first scene of Crazy Rich Asians, a young Eleanor Sung-Young (the ageless Michelle Yeoh) arrives at an elite hotel in London with her young children in tow. It's 1995, and before they've had a chance to shake the rain off their very expensive jackets, the concierge takes one look at the Singaporean family and claims the reservations got lost, insisting they leave. Eleanor's reaction to the snub? She asks to make a phone call and buys the place.
Director Jon M. Chu accomplishes a couple things by kicking off this adaptation of Kevin Kwan's 2013 book of the same name in this manner. He addresses the elephant in the room (everyone is Asian!) and demonstrates these people are rich. Crazy rich. Perhaps too rich ever to have been marginalized.
The film cuts to 2018, and Eleanor's son Nick (Henry Golding) is all grown up and dating Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American NYU professor who has no idea her boyfriend is heir to a dynasty. A trip to Singapore for a wedding is when she discovers the family's status. They actually don't get any farther than the airport before Rachel notices their first-class treatment is far grander than Nick had implied.
The Youngs' opulent lifestyle and culture is fiercely protected by the cooler-than-ice Eleanor. Yeoh conveys the character's steely disapproval of her son's girlfriend with a quick viciousness—just a flick of the side eye is all it takes. When quizzing Rachel about her aspirations and learning she's an economics professor, Eleanor scorns both her profession and nationality in mere seconds by responding, "Pursuing one's passion. How American."
Prior to meeting the Youngs, Rachel visits her college friend Peik Lin, played by the hilarious Nora Lum (known also as "My Vag" rapper Awkwafina), who lives with her new rich parents Ken Jeong and the scene-stealing Koh Chieng Mun. During an Asian-American version of that dinner scene in Talladega Nights, they explain how the Youngs' fame is of Rockefeller-meets-Kardashian proportions.
And those exquisite details of their blueblood grandeur are brought to life to dizzying effect by the same studio that made The Hunger Games. Pre-party shots of the Singapore skyline and lavish wedding festivities, including a jaw-dropping jungle ceremony in a church, make the Ocean's franchise look as if it were filmed on a shoestring indie budget.
Despite the overall lighthearted tone, Crazy Rich Asians is well aware it's the first contemporary studio film with an all-Asian cast since 1993's The Joy Luck Club. Sincere commentary on womanhood is punctuated by a climactic scene between Rachel and Eleanor during a strategic game of mahjong. We learn that Nick's kind cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan), first shown hiding her recently purchased Manolos from her fiance, also conceals the job offers she refuses to avoid emasculating him. Though a comedy through and through, the marital and maternal subplots feel like juicy bits of added depth rather than filler.
Not an on-the-nose, Oscar-bait kind of "race film," Crazy Rich Asians is an airy romcom that indulges our guilty cravings for family drama and the luxurious lifestyles of the obscenely wealthy. What's more American than that?
SEE IT: Crazy Rich Asians is rated PG-13. It plays at Bridgeport, Cedar Hills, City Center, Clackamas, Division, Eastport, Fox Tower, Lloyd, Moreland, Oak Grove, St. Johns Twin Cinema and Tigard. Showtimes vary.