Crazy Rich Asians the novel was written by Kevin Kwan, and was published in 2013. I started hearing about it sometime in 2016 through friends of mine who really enjoyed the book, and then the film came out in August 2018. By that time, I had just graduated with my masters, was working full time to save up for an upcoming trip to the Philippines, and then actually landed in the Philippines straight to a full-time teaching job. I never did get around either to watching the film, or picking up the book.
But then in January 2019, as I was idly scrolling through the Play Movies app wondering what I should spend the $5 from Google Surveys that I had, Crazy Rich Asians the film came up as a recommendation. Spending the afternoon in bed watching a romcom seemed to be a good time, so I rented it. What a film! It had everything from New York desserts to Singaporean dumplings, from absurdly extravagant fashion choices to jewellery straight from royalty, and Kris fcking Aquino, of course wearing yellow. This film ticked off every single thing I must have in order to unequivocally love a rom com (see: The Princess Switch): terribly sappy love stories, amazing locations, and side characters with pizzazz.
Once we got to that early scene where news about Rachel Chu coming to Singapore with Nick Young to attend Colin and Araminta’s wedding snaked around through social media, cousins, mothers, and friends, I was hooked.
Casting Awkwafina as Peik Lin was a slam dunk. What a charmer! Her Peik Lin was, I think, very different from the more measured Peik Lin of the books, but it worked! She was an absolute scene stealer. I’m especially thinking about the scene where she drives Rachel over for the dinner party, wrangles an invite, and begins flipping through the outfits in the back of her car like they were names in a Rolodex – . Absolutely loved her costumes, as well, especially those gaudy, loud dog pajamas!
Another noteworthy performance was Michelle Yeoh, who was banging as Eleanor Young. Her performance brought so much more nuance to book!Eleanor – an ice queen whose reputation for perfection masks a less than stellar relationship with the matriarch of the family, and thus, a less than stellar relationship with her own son and husband. The way that she approached Constance Wu’s Rachel Chu on the stairs and gently, almost kindly, said “You will never be enough” killed me. But also it made me want to go, “Me! Do me next!” I don’t think I’ll ever have enough of Michelle Yeoh.
Because I enjoyed it so much, I’m almost glad that I saw the film before having read the book. There would have been a tiny bit of disappointment there, particularly in the way that Astrid’s storyline was handled, as well as how Rachel reacted to the news about her father. But from a reader’s perspective, the book truly did feel like it was telling the intertwined stories of an ensemble of unimaginably wealthy people, snaking its way from New York through to Singapore, jumping from one family to the next. The jewels were bigger, the fashion was more ostentatious, the aunties were more gossip-y – I absolutely loved it. Reading it was like eating a cake: fluffy, delicious, moist and sweet and satisfying.
I was so taken by Astrid’s and Charlie’s story, and would have wanted more of that to have been included in the film. The book was also able to tackle more “crazy” than the film was, and I especially loved the little bible study vignettes where they all came to inspect newly acquired jewels while discussing bible passages, lounging in lavish beds.
The reader gets a better sense, as well, of how Rachel Chu is functionally bilingual and bicultural in New York City, but that she is woefully unprepared for what was about to transpire in Singapore. Nick Young, in his desire to approach the fact of his family’s wealth as though it had no bearing on how they would meet his girlfriend, created a situation where Rachel was unable to really know what she was walking into. Despite Astrid attempting to persuade him into preparing her for walking into the proverbial lion’s den, he does not take her advice. The way that Eleanor and her gaggle of aunties begin and continue to mischaracterize Rachel led to some awkward, and frankly, angering interactions, at least some of which the long-suffering girlfriend would have been able to steel herself for (or refuse to face!) had she been at least told something.
As well, the book emphasizes how Singapore is not just the main setting where the stories happen and collide, the country and culture are characters, as well. In the film, New York and Singapore seemed to have been almost incidental, in that “here is this story and it happens in this city” place, but the book has created a space wherein it introduces the city to its readers and then allows us to take in and really simmer in the fact that Singapore itself is a character.
All in all, the book is worth taking in for a bit of summer fluff at the beach, or on public transit as you commute home, which is when I finished it, and why I completely missed my stop and had to walk 15 minutes back. The film as well is a thumbs up, watch it for all the pretty people, the jewels, the fashion, and most of all, for Awkwafina and for Michelle Yeoh.
Honourable mentions in the film: Gemma Chan’s gorgeously restrained Astrid Young Teo; Henry Golding’s conflict avoidant Nick Young; and Nico Santos’ sartorially sharp Cousin Ollie.