If Jane Austen and Oscar Wilde traveled and lived in 2018 Singapore, and then co-wrote a book, Crazy Rich Asians, or a book similar to it, would exist. Instead, author Kevin Kwan grew up among the uber-rich of Singapore, and wrote this satirical and comedic drama about the families behind the riches.
Understanding that his audience may not be in tune with how Asians and money work in Singapore, Kwan spends a lot of time explaining old money, new money, and some basic Chinese history as background. However, sometimes that background gets in the way of the story, which is ultimately about Nick (old money) who goes to America and falls in love with Rachel (no money), and then introduces her to his family. It's a classic story, and some of the Cinderella themes are familiar. In this new setting, the story feels fresh enough to put that aside and get pulled in.
Nick's best friend, Colin Khoo, is getting married and Nick is the best man. As they travel, Rachel gets small hints that Nick is connected to more money than she realized, but her first reality check comes from her college friend Peik Lin (new money), who also lives in Singapore. When Rachel tells the family whose wedding she is attending, Peik Lin's aunt exclaims:
"He comes from one of the reee-chest families in the world! And Araminta Lee - she's the supa-model daughter of Peter Lee, one of China's reee-chest men, and Annable Lee, the luxury hotel queen. This is like royal weddeeeng!"
What ensues is a bachelorette party on a private island, a bachelor party on a ship, jealous rich girls, and ultimately an angry, but subdued matron. Nick's mother, Eleanor Young, has no intention of letting her only son marry something worse than an American Born Chinese -- an American immigrant from China, the daughter of a single mom who waited tables in Chinese restaurants. She goes to extreme lengths to prove Rachel's unworthiness, ultimately unveiling an unsavory family secret that even Rachel doesn't know.
Crazy Rich Asians is the first of three books, and while things are hopeful, it ends with some of the story lines left open ended, to be resolved later.
As a movie, Crazy Rich Asians has a lot of expectations to live up to. With an all-Asian cast, it's shining the limelight on many unknown Asian actors. It's also highlighting the wealthy side of Singapore, while educating the world on parts unknown. The movie is also a romantic comedy, so it has to be funny and sweet, and a movie that people will tell their friends to see. The stakes were high for the movie makers, and failure was not an option.
Luckily, for the producers, actors, and the audience, author Kevin Kwan was involved in everything from the screen play to set design and worked to bring his vision to life. While reading the book I assumed several parts would be ignored for the movie or downplayed. In addition, there are so many characters, it made sense some of them would be combined, or the movie would truly become bogged down, as the book sometimes is, in family history, instead of moving the story forward.
In the movie version Nick and Rachel have been dating for a smaller amount of time, making her lack of awareness seem less out of place. Family members are introduced briefly and then brought in more often in order to keep track of who is who. Some of the casting is perfect -- Ollie is exactly as I imagined him! While others are a miss -- Peik Lin is a bit too much and doesn't seem like the type of person that Rachel would have as best friend.
In the book, Eleanor's attempts to sabotage Rachel and Nick's relationship are subtle, and manipulative. In the movie she is a bit more obvious. While it moves the story along more quickly, I enjoyed the scheming Eleanor and would have liked to see a bit more of her.
Sidenote: Colin and Araminta's $40 million wedding will not disappoint.
Some of the changes from the book were good - in the book nobody knew the crazy rich Nick Young, and in the movie everyone knows who he is. Thank goodness! I would have liked to see another relationship more frequently on screen. Cousin Astrid and her husband Michael's relationship is only presented in bite-size pieces, and has less an impact on the overall story, as well as providing the obvious contrast to Nick and Rachel's new relationship.
While the book makes room for additional storylines, the movie wraps things up a little tighter, giving the impression that this was a one-shot movie. They gave it all they had, and if you want to know more about Rachel, Nick, and the rest of the Young family, you'll have to read the next two books.
If you've read the book, and enjoyed it, you will enjoy the movie as well. The characters and themes stay true to the book, even if the story flows a bit differently. The romance is cute, without being obnoxious, and the couple is one you will want to root for.
Book or Movie? I thought both were good and you can't go wrong with either one.