It’s received a lot of hype thanks to being the first entirely Asian/Asian diaspora cast since 1993’s adaptation of The Joy Luck Club, but how does Crazy Rich Asians compare to its source material?
I’ll admit I’m a little late to the party on this one but after finishing the book yesterday and seeing the film today, I have some thoughts on this Summer’s big rom com.
Crazy Rich Asians is the story of Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American professor whose gorgeous boyfriend Nick invites her to Singapore to attend the wedding of his best friend. Unbeknownst to Rachel, Nick comes from one of the oldest, richest Singaporean families, and they do not take lightly to outsiders of questionable heritage.
At 546 pages, Kevin Kwan’s debut is not a quick read, but it’s certainly high energy; not to mention FILTHY. My fiancé wondered on the way home from the cinema, will there now be a whole load of teenagers who loved the film and will read the book? If so, they are in for quite the rude awakening – swearing, blow jobs, and plenty more that did not quite make it into the glossy 12A adaptation.
This is not highbrow literature by any means, it’s in your face and over the top, to the point of being a parody of itself – which is the point. Occasionally I tired of the detailed descriptions of the clothes/jewellery/décor (we get it, they’re RICH), but Kwan is clearly mocking the extravagant snobbery (and outrageous classism/racism) of these Singaporean socialites. While the book is a rom com at its core, it was not the kind of sickly sweet affair that usually makes me want to throw up. I particularly liked that the ending didn’t wrap everything up neatly, but then that is not necessarily surprising for the first in a series.
Ultimately, this book is a bit of fun. Energetic, silly, sometimes trashy and sometimes FILTHY fun. I gave it 4/5 stars and look forward to reading the rest of the series.
Crazy Rich Asians also forms part of my Read the World Challenge (Singapore).
Buy Crazy Rich Asians on Wordery
As I’ve already alluded to, the film suffered from what many adaptations suffer from – being made by Hollywood. On the one hand, it was fun and energetic; on the other it was glossy, tame, and only loosely based on the original story.
Warning: The below includes spoilers for the film, and by extension the book
What I liked
- Awkwafina as Rachel’s friend Peik Lin Goh was a revelation. In the book, Peik Lin is already quirky and provides some of the comedy, but Awkwafina took it to a whole new level and was easily my favourite part of the whole film, she was frigging HILARIOUS.
- The all-Asian/Asian diaspora cast. This is a hotly debated issue, as many have been quick to highlight that this is by no means a decisive victory for diverse representation in film. I don’t feel I should be weighing in on the debate, but on a basic level, I liked that it was a big-budget film with more roles for actors of Asian descent (albeit a very narrow definition of ‘Asian’).
- It was fun. Despite everything I’m about to say below, it was fun. I knew the kind of film I was going in to see, and if I hadn’t read the book, I probably would have had fewer problems with it.
What I didn’t like
- The reliance on tired stereotypes that didn’t relate to the book. For example, part of the whole Rachel vs family dilemma for Film Nick is because he is under pressure to come home and take over his family’s business. The whole adult son/family business is such a tired trope, and wasn’t in the book. The Youngs’ dislike of Rachel comes from a much more insidious snobbery than just wanting their son to return home from America. This change really watered that down as if it could be understandable that Eleanor and Ah Mah could treat Rachel so terribly just because they wanted Nick back in their lives.
- The watering down generally. The book is a lot more extreme, from the sexual content to the vindictive behaviour of many of the characters. It gave the story more comedy and more shock value, while the film was a lot more saccharine (of course)
- The gross over-simplification of Astrid’s storyline. Because the scriptwriters merged her confrontation with Michael over the ‘affair’ into the run up to Colin’s wedding, her reaction was completely out of line with her original character. In the book, it is a much more complex storyline that is not a cut and dry case of Michael cheating due to feeling emasculated by his wife’s money, and Astrid’s first reaction isn’t to worry about what her family would think of her. Film Michael was left as a completely two-dimensional, insecure twerp, and the whole thing was annoyingly tropey.
- The ENDING. Of course it tied everything up in a bow because it’s a Hollywood rom com, but it didn’t even really make sense! First, Nick proposes to Rachel the first time she’s willing to meet him after his family basically wreck her whole identity. He’s an intelligent guy, I can’t imagine he’d be THAT naïve to think she’d say yes without a bit more work than just rocking up with a ring. Then Rachel engineers an eye-rolling confrontation with Nick’s mother over a casual game of mah jong (of course) which somehow leads to a total U-turn in Eleanor’s prejudicial awfulness to the point where she gives Nick her one-of-a-kind engagement ring to re-propose to Rachel with. It was totally unbelievable and cemented the film’s status as yet another formulaic adaptation of a witty and entertaining novel.
Book or Film?
If we’re being honest, it’s rare that a film adaptation does a book justice, so this isn’t a surprising verdict. Being a fraction more faithful to the book could have produced a far more original film, but it’s by no means the worst adaptation I’ve ever come across! It wasn’t a bad film, and if you’re realistic about what it is when you go in, there is a lot to be enjoyed.
Over to you, have you read this book and/or seen the film? Let me know what you thought!