September 1, 2018 – Romantic comedy is something that is rarely done well these days in movies, but a competent Asian dominated romantic comedy that is popular in the USA? Now that is really rare! That is what we have here.
In today's isolationist, xenophobic political climate, in the midst of a trade war with China, we have a romantic comedy of Asian characters set in Singapore. This movie about a woman from an immigrant family is hardly the kind of film one would expect to do well in this country, but it is wildly popular with American audiences. Why? Because it is a really good romantic comedy, that's why. There is no better definition of a feel-good movie than a romantic comedy.
This story is also about a class struggle, girl power, hubris and tradition. An American economics professor, Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu of “Parallels”) falls in love with handsome, smooth talking Nick Young (played by Henry Golding of “A Simple Favor”). She agrees to travel with him from New York to meet his family in Singapore. Rachel, who was raised by a single parent, her mother, Kerry Chu (Tan Kheng Hua of “The Blue Mansion”) a Chinese immigrant. Nick, on the other hand, avoids talking about his family. Rachel has no idea what she is getting herself into on this trip.
It turns out Nick's family is fabulously wealthy, as in “old money” real estate holdings in Singapore, housed in a secluded mansion behind a guarded gate. In addition to attending a wedding of Nick's oldest friend, she has also come to Singapore to visit her flamboyant friend, Peik Lin Goh (Awkwafina of “Oceans Eight”). Only when Rachel visits Peik Lin Goh and her family does she find out just how rich Nick's family really is.
We later find out that the reason Nick fell in love with Rachel is partly because she is not like the women of Singapore who know about his family and are interested mainly in his wealth. Rachel had no idea about his wealth. She is also a self-made woman, the daughter of another self-made woman, which is part of Rachel's appeal. Naturally, Nick's friends and family think she is after Nick's money and call her a gold digger.
When Rachel finally meets Nick's formidable mother, Eleanor (Michel Yeoh of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) she gets a frosty reception at first, and then it starts getting really ugly. Eleanor has a dim view of American self-fulfilment goals, preferring to put the welfare of the family first. This is not just tradition, but a deeply personal feeling with her.
Rachel puts up with the increasingly hostile attacks by jealous women and a disapproving family, but she finally beats a retreat to Peik Lin Goh's home, which becomes a haven for her. She is close to giving up when she decides to fight back with the aid of her friend and another ally, Nick's gay cousin, Oliver T'sien (Nico Santos of “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2”) who, as a fashion expert, helps Rachel dress up for her upcoming skirmishes with hostile women.
The basic plot of this movie is conventional. Nothing unexpected happens. What is makes this stand out are the characters, which although standard for a romantic comedy, are exceptionally well defined and developed. There is unexpected depth, for instance, in Eleanor, as well as Rachel and her mother. While the ending is certainly not unexpected, it is very satisfying. This film rates a B.
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