Hail, hail, the gist’s all here! In Crazy Rich Asians, New Yorker, Rachel Chu (an ABC, or American-born Chinese) falls in love with Nick Young, who takes her to visit his Chinese family in Singapore, but he neglects to tell her that his family is extremely wealthy and exclusive. Shocks ensue, and, fairly, the movie zooms in on the shocks—which don’t stop.
Although Rachel (essentially, if not literally, the story’s protagonist) soon gets a clue about Nick’s family’s wealth, she runs up against it especially harshly at a bachelorette party on a resort island. Across her hotel bed is a large gutted fish and on the walls the message “CATCH THIS, YOU GOLD-DIGGING BITCH!” This is horror that a movie can readily dramatize, and this movie does early on. This is a horror that the book version of Crazy Rich Asians relates over halfway through; It’s one of many shocking things that happen to Rachel in the book as she navigates a visit to Nick’s crazy rich Asian family.
The cinematic adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians makes other changes to the book’s narrative, but the changes do not warp the essence of the story. For instance, it’s surprising that Rachel’s friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) stays behind at the party at Tyersall Park, but it’s a slight shift; it doesn’t change Rachel’s course. The main storyline is unchanged from book to movie. Nick Young (Henry Golding) goes back to Singapore to be best man at his friend Colin Khoo’s wedding, and he takes his girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) with him to visit his family. Unfortunately, Nick’s family—most of all, his mother (Michelle Yeoh)—doesn’t at all approve of Rachel and vigorously opposes Nick’s (growing) intention to marry her. This opposition brings about a rift between Rachel and Nick…but will it be permanent? (Guess!) Meanwhile, other events take place (there’s a storyline involving Nick’s cousin Astrid), other characters appear (most amusingly, Nick’s cousin Oliver), but that is the bare bones of it.
A major focus for both book and movie of Crazy Rich Asians is the rampant materialism everywhere in and around Singapore that Rachel goes. Apart from the crazy rich Youngs, these crazy rich Asians are not discreetly rich. This is made most obvious in the movie at the bachelor and bachelorette parties for Colin and Araminta. For the bachelor party—there’s a cargo ship that, according to mustsharenews.com, would cost $27, 477/day to rent in 2015, and that’s apart from the lavish entertainment onboard. At the bachelorette party—a shopping spree is provided that would cost God knows how much, not to mention the expensive Four Seasons Resort where the guests stay. After these parties comes, of course, the wedding and the wedding reception, which are over-the-top—and over $40 million—in both book and movie. The display of wealth in Crazy Rich Asians stays the same from book to movie.
The plot does not. A lot of scenes get cut and, consequently, the bachelor and bachelorette parties happen. The engagement ring, from Nick for Rachel, also appears. Scenes between Nick’s mother and Rachel are inserted, especially a decisive scene of a mahjong game between the two. Meanwhile, the storyline involving Nick’s cousin Astrid is re-worked, though it’s not clear why. Near the end, Rachel’s mother’s story about Rachel’s birth gets simplified, but the gist of it remains the same. Then there’s a new ending, improbably opulent for a last-minute ceremony but charming nonetheless.
Indeed, “charming nonetheless” could describe this cut-down (and slightly re-arranged) movie version of a long (500+ pages) and complicated book.
Thomas Gagnon has published essays and reviews in Wilderness House Literary Review and alternative literary blog, The Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. He has published articles about art exhibits in South End News and poetry in cross-disability literary journal Breath and Shadow.