Never bet against “Crazy Rich Asians.” Jon M. Chu’s Cinderella-esque comedy set in Singapore among upscale Chinese is number 1 for the weekend. Last night the terrifically funny film made $7.6 million, bringing its total since Wednesday to $16 million. By tomorrow night, another $14 million or more will be added.
“Crazy Rich Asians” has become a phenomenon, but almost not a surprise. Warner Bros. marketing was very clever setting it up for weeks and weeks. The smell of success was in the air, that’s for sure. Releasing mid week also helped, since there was nothing else out there except “The Meg,”which already had its big launch, “Mission: Impossible,” already pretty much spent of its audience, and the more serious Spike Lee hit, “Blackkklansman.”
“Crazy Rich Asians” could be called “Chi-nasty,” as in the Chinese version of the TV show “Dynasty.” On its face, it’s a simple story of a girl from the wrong side of the tracks who thinks she might marry into a rich, exclusive family. The only problem is the wicked mother of the potential groom who doesn’t think she’s good enough for her son or the family. We’ve been here before many times.
The screenplay, frankly, is clunky. It reads like “My Big Fat Chinese Wedding.” Some of the material is cringe-worthy. It’s a fish out of water story, true. But an an examination of a culture foreign to us in the west, this is no “Slumdog Millionaire” by any means.
And yet, “Crazy Rich Asians” offers a lot that is unexpected. It’s about empowerment, for one thing. Young women can identify with it as the main character, Constance Wu’s Rachel, is no victim. She rises to the 0ccasion and meets her enemy– potential mother in law played to the hilt by Michelle Yeoh–and vanquishes her. There are also nicely orchestrated subplots for the supporting characters, and a knockout comedy turn by Awkwafina in her second success of the season (the first was “Oceans 8”).
Mostly, you leave “Crazy Rich Asians” on a high note. The audience feels great. Not only do they want a sequel, they want to visit Singapore. It’s the best PR they’ve gotten since the days when it was known for punishing tourists by caning.
Chu’s next big job is directing the movie version of Lin Manuel Miranda’s “In the Heights.” Now that we’ve seen what he can really do, that project looks even more exciting. Bring it on!