Director: Jon M. Chu.
There has been a lot of noise from the States regarding this; plus seeing high box office figures from the US and Asia, it made me wonder if this was going to be what Black Panther did for the black community and I was intrigued to find out if the rising success was because it is a good film or if it was just a mass viewing rampage of Eastern Asians across the world. It’s certainly making recent Hollywood history as having the largest Asian-majority assembly for an American produced film since Joy Luck Club, which incidentally is causing much controversy, mostly amongst the Eastern Asian communities. Just look at Jaime Chung’s twitter feed as an example.
It’s a film based on Kevin Kwan’s bestseller titular novel and first of a trilogy, published back in 2013. Drawing from his own childhood experiences in Singapore, which were stories he had written down whilst reminiscing with his dying father as a way to preserve those memories; Kwan gives us a broad story about today’s domestic society that whilst set among the affluent people of Singapore, it’s something people of all backgrounds might be able to relate to. In an interview with The Daily Beast’s Shinan Govani, Kwan states that he wanted to “introduce a contemporary Asia to a North American audience” realising there was a niche and a real lack of this kind of book in western literature.
Unlike the book, which tells the story from five of the main characters, the film mainly focuses on Rachel Chu; an economics professor at New York University and her charming and well educated boyfriend, Nick Young, who takes her to Singapore to attended a family wedding and to inevitably, meet his family. But unknown to her, her boyfriend’s family isn’t just rich; they’re crazy rich and pretty much regarded as royalty, which sets the premise for a good balance of emotional drama and great comedy with Rachel getting chucked into the elitist echelon of Singapore’s high society.
We watch as she struggles ultimately with the clash of class and cultures as Nick’s family, especially his overbearing and prestigious mother who does not approve of Rachel and isn’t shy about showing her disapproval. But, with the support of a few nice family members and her best friend, she battles on for the one she’s loves.
I was initially surprised at Jon M. Chu being director, recognising him as director of Now You See Me 2 and G.I. Joe: Retaliation; but then I notice he directed the two sequels of the Step Up movies, realising that doing a rom/com such as this should not so surprising and he certainly proves he’s got the flair and skill with some impressive sequences and shots.
There’s a super assembly of Asian actors, comedians and TV celebrities. Fresh Off The Boat’s Constance Wu is more than lovely as Rachel Chu and plays the keen girlfriend that’s outta class and out of her depth incredible well. Malaysian TV host, Henry Golding makes this is acting debut, looking like a dashing and charming younger Mark Dacascos, though his acting ability does glimmer a slight weakness proving that it is actually himself that’s out of his comfortable zone, and not his screen girl. But, putting those tiny moments aside he has great promise and look forward to what he does next.
There’s a massive supporting cast, with the gorgeous Gemma Chan as the elegant cousin who really has a heart of gold. Nico Santos as a second cousin and fashion guru and comic actor regular, Ken Jeong as his usual awkward character self. But the two that are outstanding offer both ends of a spectrum. Michelle Yeoh playing the proud and disapproving Mother, whose cold seriousness enrages emotions, whilst the amazing Awkwafina balances her out with her outrageous and hilarious demeanour as Rachel’s best friend.
Brian Tyler’s score just blew me away; a score I would never associate with him doing, having composed music for mostly action films like Marvel, Fast and Furious, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and last year’s Power Rangers. It’s a score I would expect from Thomas Newman; think Meet Joe Black, with big orchestrated jazz bands, swing and strings which really brings a sassy reminder of the golden age of cinema to the story. There’s a great soundtrack too, with some amazing Chinese renditions of famous tracks like Katherine Ho’s asian lyrical of Coldplay’s “Yellow” and especially Kina Grannis’ cover of “Can’t Help Falling In Love With You”; and to add to the jazz, Grace Chang’s (Ge Lan) famous “Wo Yao Ni De Ai” is here also.
Mary E. Vogt’s wardrobe merits a massive mention as the fashion element is quite prevalent throughout, portraying that extravagance people of the old money society exhibit perfectly. Many of the world’s leading fashion brands wanted to be involved with names like Dior, Dolce & Gabbana, Missoni, Marchesa, Ralph Lauren, Valentino and many more. Even Yeoh loaned some of her own personal collection, such as the emerald ring she wears; and she used her influence to get consultations from Hong Kong and Singapore tai tais to help finalise the impressive wardrobe. I wouldn’t be surprised if this gets an Oscar nomination.
There’s a good message here and though it follows typical rom/com parallels it’s refreshingly unpredictable. There’s plenty of laugh out loud moments but has an equal amount of emotional impact to bring the lesson home. With the key focus on Rachel, she proves that money can’t buy happiness let alone love, and also shows she’s worth far more than her weight in gold making this an almost priceless Cinderella story.
With all it’s shiny glitz and glamour, the film is a little unpolished at times and feels poorly edited; maybe hinting at some reshoots or last minute edits; and someone’s story doesn’t feel quite finished. But hey! It’s the first part of a trilogy and the sequel has already been announced; and with all it’s flaws, it’s actually highly enjoyable and touching, and can sit comfortably next to other rom/coms like Love Actually and Four Weddings.
Running Time: 9
The Cast: 8
Job Description: 9
The Extra Bonus Point: 0