MOVIE REVIEW: Singapore fling plays to win
CRAZY RICH ASIANS
Director: Jon M. Chu
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Awkwafina
Running time: 120 minutes
RATING: THREE-AND-A-HALF STARS
In this modern Asian fairytale, Cinderella has already met her Prince.
The problems begin when he takes her home to meet his family - bringing the differences of their respective upbringings into sharp relief.
Economics professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a successful, second-generation Chinese-American born to a self-sacrificing single mum (Tan Kheng Hua).
Nick Young (Henry Golding) is the oldest son and heir apparent to an obscenely wealthy dynasty of Singaporean property developers. During the pair's smooth, year-long courtship in New York, however, he has failed to mention this fact.
So when they fly to Singapore for his best mate's wedding, Rachel is utterly unprepared for the opulence to which her boyfriend is accustomed, not to mention the lengths his family will go to in order to scare off "foreign gold-diggers".
Adding a more complex layer to this good-looking romantic crowd-pleaser are the couple's cultural differences.
Rachel is a multicultural hybrid (American is her first language.) Nick might be a citizen of the world, but his roots are firmly in Asia where family duties take priority over contemporary Western values such as self-realisation.
This allows Michelle Yeoh's class-conscious Tiger Mum to be a much more nuanced villain than the classic evil step-parent.
Based on Kevin Kwan's novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians puts a new spin on a familiar story while showcasing Singapore as a stunning, ultra-modern backdrop - the film's climactic sequence, for example, takes place on the jaw-dropping rooftop of the Marina Bay Sands Hotel.
Director Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2) uses his fresh, talented, genetically blessed cast to good effect in the first major Hollywood studio film to feature an all-Asian or Asian-American cast since Wayne Wang's The Joy Luck Club (1993).
Such uniformly strong performances from so many little-seen or unknown actors is a stark reminder of the wealth of talent that is there for a slowly diversifying Hollywood to tap into.
While the male characters acquit themselves handsomely enough, it's the women who drive this narrative.
Wu is terrific as the film's plucky, down-to-earth protagonist. If Rachel is going to survive in Nick's world, she's going to have to practice the game theory she preaches back at NYU.
"The key is playing to win, instead of trying not to lose," Rachel tells her students at the beginning of the film.
New York rapper-actor Awkwafina (Ocean's 8) turns in another scene-stealing performance as Rachel's eccentric former college roommate Peik Lin.
Crazy Rich Asians is being widely touted as a breakthrough film in terms of cultural representation. But it can also simply be enjoyed as a wonderfully engaging romp.