Lately, Asians in America have gravitated toward the romantic comedy genre, partly to bask in its flights of fancy and desire — and, quietly, to challenge stereotypes of a submissive, homogenous group of robotic workers. Nowhere has that been more apparent than the anticipation of Jon M. Chu's Crazy Rich Asians. Scandal ensues when the charming Nick (Henry Golding), secretly heir to a wealthy Chinese-Singaporean real estate fortune, brings his accomplished, lower-class Chinese-American girlfriend, Rachel (Fresh Off The Boat's Constance Wu), home for his best friend’s wedding.
While the film attempts to situate identity as its emotional heart, Rachel's sense of self isn’t easily shaken. "I’m so Chinese, I’m an economics professor with lactose intolerance," Rachel says when her free-spirited mother (Tan Kheng Hua), worries she’s too American for the old money. If Rachel does struggle with her identity, Chu’s pacing leaves little room to investigate these nuances. Instead, Wu is tasked with delivering sentimental monologues about her background in a believable way. When Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) and her mother-in-law (Lisa Lu) try to cast doubt on Rachel, by way of a long-buried family secret, the drama and subsequent fallout feel manufactured.
Rachel's cat-and-mouse game to win Eleanor’s respect is the most enjoyable thread of the film. The opulence of the clothes and jewelry begins to take on the quality of an advertisement; of what and for whom is up for debate. But these images are too aware of the ones that have come before it; they’re diametrically opposed to stereotypes of Asians laboring or laundering clothes. For all its carnival-like antics, Crazy Rich Asians is all too aware of its own spectacle.