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You Can’t Just be Crazy Rich; You Gotta Say Something

Robin Alexander

Posted on September 19, 2018 13:19

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There are only so many plot lines. Even Shakespeare relied on source material. Some plots were based on old stories from earlier civilizations (Hamlet, Pericles); some were borrowed from recent Italian works or English renditions of those works (Romeo and Juliet, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello); some were appropriated from contemporary fiction (As You Like It, The Winter’s Tale); some were drawn from legends (Cymbeline, Macbeth). You all get the point.

Lamentably, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie, is so banal and formulaic, it’s embarrassing.

It's always about how an author manipulates a plot so that characters develop and themes emerge, preferably with new layers of insight that actually rise above cliche. Anything at all will do ... a little cleverness ... a little nuance ... a little humor ...  and since we’re talking “movie,” the dialogue should be slightly surprising every now and then. Oh yes, delivery by the leads might be almost as sincere as what we did in Acting 101.

Conflict between an older more traditional generation and a younger more innovative generation is older than King Lear. It probably fuels Abraham's initial journey. In a more modern context, it's a big part of Bye Bye Birdie and Flower Drum Song, two movies with more wit and splash in one scene than this one exhibits in two hours.

The older movies even had iconic songs devoted to the concept (Kids! and The Other Generation) – worth checking out even today. Again, I have absolutely nothing against recycling plot. But I do expect a level of entertainment at least on a par with the Drew Barrymore remake of Cinderella (which was pretty darn good).

Okay, we get to see Singapore. We get to see some quirkily drawn and better-acted secondary characters. Okay, the whole thing is flavored with soy and ginger. Is that all there is? It’s fresh and exciting just because they’re . . . Chinese?

So, the nostalgic family recipe is dumplings (instead of matzoh balls). Snore. The big face-off takes place over mahjong (instead of canasta) in a scene stunning for its lack of dynamism.

The "evil" mother was victimized by grandma 30 years earlier in exactly the same way she is victimizing her potential daughter-in-law now – well that is significant. So, we’re waiting for Mom to tap into her feelings, burst forth with a magnificent epiphany and maybe even tell-off grand mama (in a reserved traditional Chinese sort of way, naturally).

Then of course it happens (except for the part about telling off grand mama) – and it’s all so predictable that to my utter amazement I could practically mouth the words along with the characters.

Which leads me to my sticking point: this movie is about Asians that are so crazy rich, it’s beyond offensive. Apparently, the Chinese 0.1% put our 0.1% to shame when it comes to decadence and pomposity.

So, while the camera caresses every detail of the best friend’s $4 million wedding, including the cast's fascination as the aisle is submerged with water and lotuses and the bride walks down dressed like a bizarre Egyptian mermaid, I would expect the NYU ECONOMICS professor to indicate just once how utterly disgusting it all is (yeah, the leading lady plays an NYU Economics professor, just to prove how “Chinese” she really is).

But alas, this Chinese-American millennial (the character and the movie) is as feisty as a limp rice noodle.

Robin Alexander

Posted on September 19, 2018 13:19

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Source: CBS 8

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