And Crazy Rich Asians owns its rumbling fanfare of expectation with the jaunty confidence of a pair of Jimmy Choos sauntering down a runway. Replete with riotous humour and consummate charm, it's a two hour slice of flashiness, fashion, fireworks, and frivolity - bubbly, escapist silliness and sentiment with just enough heart and slyly satirical cultural critique to keep from becoming superfluously frothy. In short: it's a perfectly delightful romantic comedy, and a fun as hell time at the movies. Director Jon M. Chu handles his international audiences with care. His pacing is cleverly canny, starting with a slow ingratiation into the architectural (Merlions, Marina Bay Sands, and Botanical Gardens, oh my!), culinary (the food, the FOOD! Whatever you do, don't watch Crazy Rich Asians on an empty stomach), and cultural landscapes of Singapore - shot on dazzling location - before plunging down the rabbit hole into the dizzying wonderland of wealth. Cleverly, the story's melodramatic histrionics ramp up in direct correlation with the display of jaw-dropping money being thrown around, and the dramaaaaaa unfolding amidst a sea of private islands, million dollar earrings, and one of the most unforgettably over-the-top movie weddings lends it a firmly tongue-in-cheek, bawdy escapism, like the best kind of reality TV show.
Chu attacks his subject matter with a champagne pop of vibrancy, with appropriately flooring haute couture costumes and production values, and a candy-coloured aesthetic that brings the opulence to life so energetically you'll nearly want Ray Bans in the theatre. Initial fourth-wall poking flourishes (including a zig-zagging coloured line jaunting across the planet, in the WeeChat equivalent of a 1970s telephone split-screen) punch up the playfulness, but quickly fizzle out - probably for the best, lest they grow obnoxiously overbearing, but still indicative of the film settling a mite too comfortably into cliché. Still, the devilish cleverness of touches like the superb soundtrack, punctuating the party with Mandarin covers of on-the-nose Western songs like "Material Girl" and "Baby You're A Rich Man" (as well as a climactic accompaniment that somehow blends teary sentiment with hilarious incongruity, too good to spoil), are enough to stave off Great Gatsby showy hollowness, and keep the film playfully fresh and fiendishly fun.
Still, within the tsunami of showiness lies an intimate, affecting parable of love and family, with aspirations of modernity and shrouds of tradition going viciously head to head. The genius of Crazy Rich Asians is the populist accessibility of its story yet unique cultural specificity of its telling, and Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim's screenplay is careful to sprinkle in idiosyncratic moments specific to Southeast Asia, including interchangeably switching languages between English, Mandarin, and Cantonese and carefully delineating the cultural milieus of 'old' and 'new money,' to ensure the narrative's cultural roots aren't excessively diluted in the wash of its international audience (the peppering of knowing chuckles in my theatre would suggest they succeeded). Chu proves as adept at letting tender private moments breathe as fanning the razzle-dazzle of the loftier celebrations. He anchors several tearjerking emotional beats on scenes that would play as Asian stereotypes in most other Hollywood productions (a family making dumplings together; an emotionally charged game of Mahjong), thereby deftly reappropriating their authenticity. The film will inevitably draw crowds for its lavish blowouts, but it's the sweetness and resonance of the story that will linger long after the confetti and caviar settle to the floorboards.
Constance Wu makes for an irresistibly lovable lead, her disarming goofiness making her a perfect fish-out-of-water guide through the film's capitalistic culture shocks, while her sparky charisma and emotive vulnerability make her the perfect emotional fulcrum. As her secretly superrich beau, Henry Golding is consummately dashing, while Gemma Chan embodies sympathetic socialite Astrid's effortless elegance and deep sadness with ever fibre of her being. Still, the unquestionable show-stealing performance goes to the wonderful Michelle Yeoh. Cementing her standing in the annals of 'scariest movie moms,' Yeoh is terrifyingly austere and magnetic in her glacial stillness, so subtle and effective that she can summon a tidal wave of staggeringly intricate conflicting emotions with an almost indiscernible tightening of her jaw. Supporting them, rapper Awkwafina is surprisingly funny without overstaying as Rachel's bombastic comic relief friend, while Chris Pang and Sonoya Mizuno are delightfully down to earth and loopy respectively, headlining the wedding of the century. Finally, Ronny Chieng, Jimmy O. Yang, and Nico Santos each take turns stealing scenery with side-splitting aplomb, while the incomparable Ken Jeong is customarily hysterical, perfectly encapsulating the flashiness of 'new money' with gleeful excess.
Crazy Rich Asians is a perfectly populist summer delight - a kaleidoscope of sensory delights and cinematic energy ensconcing a terrific cast bringing a quality story to life with honesty and humour to spare. Chu leaves us with enough of a hangover of giddiness to keep expectations fierce for the invariable upcoming China Rich Girlfriend. And if it continues to pave the way for more diverse, personal stories reaching international exposure in the meantime? Well, that's the most enriching (ha) outcome of all.