Generally, when there’s a book-to-screen adaptation, a person—who has never read the book before—has to take a step back and debate whether it’s a good idea to enjoy the novel first. The apprehension is real because you never know if the movie will live up to the book, especially if it’s a bestseller. Since the answer is generally no (I’m looking right at you, Eragon and Twilight!) I chose to read Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians before seeing the highly anticipated movie that came out in August. Honestly? I have no regrets.
The minute I saw the trailer for Crazy Rich Asians, I knew that I had to see it in theaters. I am a sucker for romantic comedies, and I was extremely excited for many reasons. Not only did it include Michelle Yeoh—who I’ve followed since I was a kid, after watching her star in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon—but also, I was amazed that it was amassing so much attention despite the majority of the cast being Asian. (The fact that it included a grand-looking wedding in the trailer may or may not have also slightly swayed me.) Since the cast included Asian culture and people, I felt it was a movie that I could genuinely relate to and connect with my own life after watching the trailer. Rachel Chu is an Asian-American trying to navigate between two cultures (which is more apparent in the book than the movie) and Nick Young’s family is super traditional and cares about appearances. This seemed a lot like me and my family, so I was really intrigued and got the book as fast as I could.
Crazy Rich Asians is about two lead characters named Rachel Chu and Nicholas (Nick) Young. Having dated for a couple of years (the book says two while the movie says one), Nick finally invites Rachel to go with him to his best friend’s wedding and meet his family in Singapore, where he was born and raised. While Rachel agrees to go with him, she’s unaware that he’s extremely rich, and she doesn’t know that the wedding they’re headed to is considered the wedding of the year. What follows is Rachel trying to navigate the new culture and society that she has been thrown into, while still trying to keep her relationship with Nick as his family tries to tear them apart.
The Book: 4/5
I mostly have good things to say about the book because I found it to be fun and dramatic (you’re talking about rich pedigree families, so you know that there’s gotta be drama), and it also reminded me of chick-lit books! Once you start reading a chick-lit novel, you just can’t stop because you need to know exactly how they will unfold. It’s just as addicting as gossip or a fun soap opera. Kwan utilizes different character viewpoints to get the whole story across, and sometimes the book jumps around in time (past vs. present). With different viewpoints, it gives the illusion that the chapters are like sharing gossip, and I felt it was a clever addition (whether it was intentional or not).
What Kwan did well was demonstrating the big differences between generations and cultures. You have the rigid old customs that Nick’s family adheres to—along with class and privilege—and yet you also have Western culture represented by following one’s passions/dreams. I could easily see where the actions of Aunt Eleanor were coming from, but also where Nick and Rachel were coming from. I was able to connect it to my own life and found many parts relatable. I’m not saying that all Asians will find a connection, but to my family and my experiences, I found many things I could relate to, including some things I have even had friends/family say to me. For instance, there’s a part in the book where Rachel’s friend calls her “self-loathing” because Rachel doesn’t want to date Asian guys. Rachel fires back, saying that her friend must also be self-loathing since she is married to someone who’s white. Her friend responds that her husband isn’t white, “he’s Jewish—that’s basically Asian!” The exchange made me chuckle because it was the ‘silver-lining’ that my own parents and relatives joked about, referring to my own dating life. “Well, at least he’s Jewish…” is a line that has been thrown around decently often. Even my fiancé and I have joked about how similar the cultures and stereotypes are and said it was a good thing we found each other. Another thing that I found relatable in the book was the amount of scheming between family and friends. There’s always something going on, it seems!
I also want to praise Kwan for keeping Chinese words and phrases. This made the writing more realistic and also made me laugh. In fact, it was this feature of the prologue that first hooked me. I heard the “aiyah” directed at Eddie so clearly in my head that I actually had to immediately show my family. Even if you don’t speak Chinese, you can find explanations and footnotes within the book that are very helpful. You won’t miss a thing.
While character jumping is quite fun, unfortunately, I found the viewpoint changes to be confusing. It was really difficult to keep the characters separate from each other because some characters weren’t well-developed, and many don’t have their own unique voices.
The only other disappointment I had was the ending because it left something to be desired. It didn’t even feel very complete. I understand that it was meant to springboard the reader to book two, but I still wasn’t impressed by it and felt it was a huge letdown.
The Movie: 5/5
This is one of those instances where if you watched the movie first and then decided to read the book, you’d be disappointed. Jon M. Chu, the director of the movie, did an excellent job of adapting the book to the screen, and I felt all the decisions that went into it followed the book quite well.
Obviously you can’t fit in everything from the book with the time restrictions, but his choices made me feel like nothing was really lost from the book. Some of his decisions were even an improvement for me (in particular the ending and the decision to make Rachel, played by Constance Wu, an economics professor and game theorist)! I also loved the vibe that the movie gave, which was helped by the way they executed the ‘gossip’ part of the movie (when Radio One Asia takes a photo of the two and sends gossip everywhere). All the colors, fun lines showing the traveling messages, and text messages on the screen definitely reminded me of a romantic comedy with a flair.
The film was funny and enjoyable to watch. The casting was wonderful. Every character had their own personality that was distinct and really added to the overall experience and authenticity. I also loved all of the sets they used. Big, over-the-top, crazy rich Asians? Check! The amount of awe-worthy buildings and the breathtaking wedding were definitely what you would expect, if not better! It was wonderful eye-candy and I can’t wait to watch it again once it comes out on DVD! All of my worry was for naught; I was definitely not disappointed.
If you’re thinking about seeing the movie, check it out in theaters near you before it leaves! Torn between going to the movie theater versus reading the book first? Read the book first so you can see all the connections and be happily surprised on how they executed everything. Not sure if you have enough time to do both? I would definitely recommend skipping the book and jumping to the movie! Not only was it a good adaptation of the book, but it also had a better feel-good ending.
What did you think of the book and/or movie? Was it what you expected? Let me know in the comments!