CRAZY RICH CINEMA

June 23, 2019

  I suppose it was an almost impossible task to adapt “Crazy Rich Asians” for the screen.

  With millions of loyal readers, a complex network of cousins and aunts, and a 527-page plot driven by character and dialog, Kevin Kwan’s runaway bestseller was a screenwriter’s minefield.

  So serious kudos to Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim for this entertaining film -- even though they completely reworked Kwan’s letter-perfect ending.

  Funny, handsome and romantic, with a firm moral stance on the misuse of money, “CRA” keys on the dashing Manhattan couple Nick and Rachel. He’s originally from Singapore, and she’s an American-born Chinese whom Nick is taking home to meet his family -- without giving her any idea what she’s in for.

  These are people who throw $40 million weddings, helicopter off to private islands for the weekend or cough up $1.5 million on antique earrings. Nick is heir apparent in a family that’s wealthy even by these unholy standards, and they aren’t about to let him wed an American “nobody.” Going head to head with Nick’s tough-as-nails mother, plus a bunch of shallow snots who see her as a gold-digger, Rachel is buoyed by her love for Nick, plus a few level heads who aren’t enamored of money, toys and status.

  Chiarelli and Lim wisely focus on this story-strand, though they manage to bring in other bits and pieces from Kwan’s sprawling plot. It’s easy to see why they revamped the end of Nick and Rachel’s odyssey, boiling several pages of dialog down to a simpler explanation; and they replaced Kwan’s low-key denouement with one of those splashy visual cues that movies often need when turning words into pictures. I had no problem with these Hollywood changes, but I remain devastated by the way this script simply butchered the terrific subplot with Nick’s cousin Astrid. This wasn’t merely shortened -- it was chopped off with an ax.

  On the plus side, “CRA” cruises on a cushion of Asian pop and brassy jazz; similarly, director John M. Chu gives the film a glossy patina of upbeat colors and a bubbly, champagne ambience complete with glowing title cards and zippy, blissful pacing.

  Henry Golding and Chris Pang ooze macho charm as Nick and his friend Colin; Constance Wu’s Rachel is as strong as a sunbeam, as delicate as a flower and as lovely as both; Awkwafina and Nico Santos nearly steal the film as Peik Lin and Oliver; and Michelle Yeoh -- veteran of nearly 50 films, including “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” -- delivers a mesmerizing, Oscar-worthy turn as Nick’s mom.

  The script also pops a few zingers that aren’t in the book: “No one loves free stuff like rich people.” “Chinese sons think their mothers barf Chanel No. 5.” And “God forbid we lose the ancient Chinese tradition of guilting your children.” I also loved the subtle use of a Scripture verse indicting worldliness (Col. 3:1), snuck into a rather superficial Bible study for snooty rich matrons.

  Thankfully, Chu said he’s willing to move on to the first of Kwan’s sequels if “CRA” performs well -- which it has.

  “China Rich Girlfriend,” here we come!

 

“Crazy Rich Asians,”

directed by John M. Chu

Run time: 120 min.

* * * (out of four)

Rated PG-13 for some suggestive content and language

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