Welcome to Crazy Rich Asia, a supranation of superrich people who transcend ethnicity yet fall back on it to maintain the exclusivity of their borders. The official language here is capital, and the official currency is tradition. Enter Rachel Chu (Fresh Off the Boat’s Constance Wu), a hapless Asian American who’s nailed immigrant success. She isn’t going to pass muster in this milieu, the homeland — as embodied by Singapore’s most elite settings — of her taipan-heir boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). Or is she?
Crazy Rich Asians gives brash visuality to the shameless excesses of Kevin Kwan’s eponymous best seller. Much more than a rom com, it’s a spectacle of carefree wealth with impeccable crowd choreography. Viewers who have read the book will be looking out for the sensory delights of its conspicuous consumption; while food takes a bit of a backseat, fashion is central. The standout piece, though, is not the haute couture but a Forever 21–style red dress Rachel naively dons to meet Nick’s family, glaring in its ill fit and pitiful good intentions.
The movie has been charged with the formidable project of being the cinematic representation Asian Americans have been waiting for. This expectation was bound for failure, because the story is ultimately based on Singapore and the Chinese-led vision of elite global Asia that the city-state all but officially advances. But visible in the shadow of Crazy Rich Asia is Crazy Poor Asia, and the Cinderella-like plot takes up how these disjointed but mutually dependent lifeworlds extend into and complicate Asian America. At its happy end (no real spoiler here), though, Crazy Rich Asians conceals the seam between the two. It’s the quintessential fairy tale of global capitalism.