Jon Chu has really turned his fortunes around with this movie. Originally the director of musical theme films like Step Up 2: The Streets, Step Up 3D and Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, he moved on to two Hasbro properties, G.I. Joe: Retaliation and Jem and the Holograms, which was out of theaters in about a week. Lucky for him, this film has been a success, with a sequel being announced a week into its run. Strangely enough, Chu is mentioned in the book as a distant cousin of main character Rachel Chu!
Based on the book by Kevin Kwan, the movie faced early controversy. Despite being the first major American release with Asian stars since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club, it received criticisms for casting biracial actors over fully ethnically Chinese ones in certain roles, as well as failing to include non-Chinese Singaporean ethnic groups, such as Malay or Indian actors.
This played out in its international release, as Singaporeans didn’t really enjoy it, criticizing it for its lack of diversity and authenticity. But domestically, its success — it’s the highest grossing romantic comedy in a decade — should hopefully lead to plenty of work for Asian actors from every country.
Nick Young (Henry Golding, A Simple Favor) and his girlfriend, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu, TV’s Fresh Off the Boat) are going to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend Colin to Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno, Annihilation), a fashion icon. Rachel hasn’t learned much about Nick’s family, but once she sees their flight accommodations, she’s shocked to learn just how rich they are. Meanwhile, thanks to someone named Radio One Asia, everyone in Singapore knows all about her.
Just how rich Nick’s family is gets cemented by a visit to her old college roommate, Goh Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and her family, which includes Ken Jeong. Despite a giant bachelor and bachelorette party, Nick feels out of place and Rachel gets a dead fish — and lots of blood — all over her bed.
If that reception seems bad, it gets worse when she meets Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh, whose stunts in movies like Police Story 3: Supercop put her on the same level as Jackie Chan even before more dramatic films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha), who wants nothing to do with a foreign girl coming into her family. And that’s before she even gets to know his grandmother Su Yi (Lisa Lu, who was in The Joy Luck Club and Demon Seed).
I loved both Jimmy O. Yang (who is also in HBO’s Silicon Valley) and Nico Santos (from Superstore) as Oliver T’sien, who gets the Young family anything they need.
If you love fashion, you’ll really love this, as clothes from Ralph Lauren, Elie Saab, Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino and Dior all appear. Yet for all these designers, Michelle Yeoh was dissatisfied with the ring that she was to wear. The emerald and diamond ring that she does wear is her personal ring, as are many pieces of jewelry in the movie.
Interestingly enough, Netflix wanted to produce the film and offered a much bigger budget, but Kevin Kwan turned down the offer in favor of a smaller $30-million budget from Warner Brothers. Why? Simple. He wanted to prove to studios that Adian-Americans would come to see this film and others like it.
There’s all manner of family drama, revelations, lavish parties, insanely expensive weddings, fireworks both personal and in the sky, love lost and love found. And the film looks gorgeous, with so many lavish sets. I may be Italian/Polish/American, but there’s still plenty of truth that I found even in my family.