CRAZY RICH ASIANS: Aside from the rarity of being an American movie with all Asian characters (See CLOSING CREDITS.), there’s nothing terribly unique about this very average, predictable romantic comedy. We’ve already bypassed the “boy meets girl” part when we’re introduced to an NYU economics professor (Constance Wu) romantically involved with a guy (Henry Golding) who neglects to tell her that he’s one of the wealthiest, most sought after bachelors on the planet. This kind of makes him the most secretive boyfriend in New York and her the most out-of-touch with current events academic on an American campus. In the spirit of MEET THE PARENTS (2000), the couple travel to Singapore to meet his family or rather his mother (Michelle Yeoh) who knows in her mind that no Western female can give her son “what he needs”. Since the twosome generate the sort of romantic chemistry normally found in a laboratory petri dish, most of the drama and laughs are gleaned from the formula to the genre supporting characters like Wu’s (TV’s “Fresh Off The Boat”) advice giving, free-spirited wisecracking college friend (Awkwafina), the flaming gay cousin (Nico Santos) or the icy, class conscious demeanor of Yeoh’s (CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON) culturally judgmental matriarch. These are precisely the sort of types we’ve seen and have come to expect to see in either a standard rom-com or Mexican novela. Much of the screenplay has the look of a travelogue put together by the Singapore Tourist Bureau as it wends its way from one party sequence to the next before the inevitable “boy loses girl but gets her back by growing a pair and standing up to his mom”. By the time we reach that point, though, it feels like it took way too long to finally arrive at a climax that we knew was going to take place. Forget about the cultural identities and significance this film wants to wrap itself around because it has more to do with global economics in the movie business that caused it to be made. But that’s a subject for another time. Content wise, it has all the substance previously found in an old episode of “Lifestyles Of The Rich And Famous”. CRITIC’S GRADE: C
CLOSING CREDITS: Although American made movies with casts that are all or predominantly Asian are rare birds, a few get spotted every couple of decades in the forest of cinematic history. Females over forty are likely to recall THE JOY LUCK CLUB (1993) about four women (Tsai Chin, Kieu Chinh, Lisa Lu, France Nuyen) who survived and thrived in China despite daunting obstacles plus their relationships with their daughters (Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, Tamlyn Tomita, Ming-Na Wen) who’ve assimilated into American culture. The screenplay was co-written by Amy Tan and based on her best-selling novel. Tan’s book and film narrative have gotten renewed attention and deserved praise with the release of CRAZY RICH ASIANS. However, I haven’t heard or read anyone referring all the way back to FLOWER DRUM SONG (1961) which was a film adaptation of a Broadway musical from, of all people, Rodgers and Hammerstein (OKLAHOMA) about ancient Chinese traditions (Calgon was an ancient Chinese secret.) clashing with modern American cultures in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The movie was a fairly delightful bit of Technicolor fluff but wasn’t able to overcome Oriental stereotypes like masters of martial arts a la Bruce Lee in movies or sidekicks on television like Bruce Lee in “The Green Hornet”.