Crazy Rich Asians opens with a kind of parable, a prologue set in 1986: The Young family, soaking wet from rain, is denied a room in the Calthorpe Hotel in London by the racist staff. The father’s response is to literally buy the place after a short phone call. Money can’t solve racism, but it can help solve the problems racism might throw up in your path—and the Youngs have more money than anyone could ever want. By the end, we learn the price of such wealth is that you end up being controlled by it.
The film, directed by Jon Chu and adapted from a quippy book by Kevin Kwan, toes a curious line between celebrating the excess of its Singaporean oligarchs and denouncing it as garish. We’re treated to sweeping wide shots of the resplendent Young estate, with its many pools and topiaries, invited to parties that are held on giant yachts in international waters or attached to the top floors of massive high-rises. It’s a kind of richness that is difficult to even imagine for the average person—the kind of imagery that can’t even be conjured by giving a child a Crayon and telling them to draw her biggest dream house.
The plot centers around Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a New York native who is invited to Singapore for a summer to attend her boyfriend Nick Young’s (Henry Golding) best friend’s wedding and to meet his extended family. Upon arrival, she learns that his family is practically royalty, the kind of movie-rich who can buy a hotel as casually as you’d order dessert. The world she enters is shellacked, overproduced, filthy, luxuriant, a glossy escapist blockbuster. The island is saturated with bright hues, and the opulent ball gowns—of course there are ball gowns—practically glow. Rachel, after stumbling at the outset, eventually takes on this sweet glamour for herself, emerging in a stunning Marchesa gown and stealing the show at the wedding.