“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting” – Sun Tzu
“A girl is like a young tree, she said. You must stand tall and listen to your mother standing next to you. That is the only way to grow strong and straight. But if you bend to listen to other people, you will grow crooked and weak.” – from the novel “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan
It was the film’s opening weekend. The auditorium was sold out. The movie playing was the adaptation of a best-selling novel. All of the principal cast was Asian. I remember it well, even though the 25th anniversary of that weekend arrives in September of this year. That film was The Joy Luck Club.
It has taken that long for Hollywood to make another major motion picture with an all-Asian cast. Crazy Rich Asians proves that there was no good reason to wait that long to make such a film. Directed by Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2), the central characters are “Nick Young” (Henry Golding, making his movie debut) and “Rachel Chu” (Constance Wu – Electric Slide), a New York city couple very much in love. They’ve been together about a year and Nick surprises Rachel by asking her to accompany him to a wedding where he will be Best Man at the wedding of “Colin” (Chris Pang – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny) to “Araminta” (Sonoya Mizuno – La La Land). Then he drops the bombshell. The wedding is being held in Singapore, where Nick is from.
The next surprise for Rachel is that she finds herself flying with Nick to Singapore in an impressive First Class suite. This is the moment that she learns that Nick has been keeping things from her; like the fact his family is incredibly rich. There will be more surprises for Rachel along the way. Also waiting for Rachel’s arrival is Nick’s mother “Eleanor” (Michelle Yeoh – Mechanic: Resurrection). She is a very formidable foe as she has already decided that Rachel is not good enough for her son, because she was raised in the USA, among other reasons.
Nick’s cousin “Astrid” (Gemma Chan – Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit) is also very wealthy and married to someone from outside their wealth strata. Her husband “Michael” (Pierre Png) is a former Army captain who is now running his own company. Astrid has to hide her extravagant purchases from him as he view her wealth as an affront to his manhood. Astrid is there at Arminita’s bachelorette party when Rachel receives an ugly message inside her room at the island spa where the soiree is being held. Going to Singapore also gives Rachel the chance to see her best friend from college, “Peik Lin Goh” (Awkwafina – Ocean’s Eight). She is a very interesting character. As the wedding draws closer, the tensions rise rapidly. Can Eleanor achieve her aim of splitting up Nick and Rachel?
There are several storylines in play here. The relationships between Nick and Rachel, Astrid and Michael, Eleanor and Nick, Eleanor and her mother-in-law “Shang Su Yi” (Lisa Lu – 2012) are complicated; and those complications are exacerbated by the clash of traditional and modern values. The casting was precise, as the entire company of players fit their respective roles quite well. The result is a movie where we care about the people on the screen (well, most of them anyway), laugh at their foibles and enjoy the utter opulence of the settings.
SPOILER WARNING – DO NOT SCROLL DOWN UNLESS YOU ARE OKAY WITH A SPOILER
There is a lot more going on in that critical game of Mahjong between Eleanor and Rachel than meets the eye. Eleanor is sitting in the East position, which is the most advantageous position. East plays first. Her being seated as East is a representation of the traditional Chinese values. Rachel sits West, as a representation of modernized values, those of Chinese who have emigrated to the west.
Rachel draws a tile that would give her a winning hand, if she chooses to play it. Instead, she discards it, allowing Eleanor to pick it up and gain a winning hand. This supports her comments about her response to Nick’s proposal.