We’ve entered a bit of a Crazy Rich Asians craze these days – and deservedly so. I was very excited to see a movie with such a diverse Asian cast go into production and more recently to see it perform so well at the box office. It’s very encouraging to witness audiences continuing to respond positively to good story lines and interesting characters regardless of their origin.
When I decided to read Crazy Rich Asians a few weeks ago, so that I could review the book and the movie side by side, I wasn’t sure whether I would like the book. I’m definitely not a chick lit or romance novel fan, so I was worried it would feel much too superficial and light for me. I ended up finding the novel enjoyable though with some softer points, but the movie actually outdid the novel for me. It was the perfect, sweet, entertaining romance comedy, like the ones I loved to watch in the 1990s and 2000s that are rarely matched nowadays. Read more about my thoughts on the novel and movie below.
While I found the Crazy Rich Asians’ novel enjoyable, I thought the movie pulled the essence of the novel out and made it shine in a much more successful way. The movie was heartwarming, entertaining, sweet and funny in its own right, with just enough changes here and there to the plot to make up for some of the shortcomings of the novel. The differences in the story actually helped the movie feel more cohesive, plausible and better-paced than the novel.
One of the story line changes I appreciated in particular in the movie was the fact that Rachel pressed Nick much more early on about his family’s wealth, and didn’t naively take days and days to figure it out. She gets into that first class cabin and immediately pries the secret loose from him, which is much more believable. I also liked that the ending of the movie was more definite and at the same time more complex than the novel. I won’t go into the details (no spoilers), but it just felt overall like a more satisfying (and unsurprisingly more cinematic) close.
The casting for the movie was overall excellent. Who doesn’t love Constance Wu after all. She brought extra depth to Rachel’s slightly lackluster character from the novel, giving her the personality and sass you’d expect from an educated daughter of a single mom living in New York city. Nick still felt pretty one-note even in the movie portrayal, but Henry Golding majorly brings the eye candy, and no one is going to complain about that. The comedic acting of several of the supporting characters was also excellent, including those that interpreted the parts of Peik Lin (Awkwafina), her family (Ken Jeong, Koh Chieng Mun etc.) and Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang).
One thing that I kind of missed in the movie was the same level of glitz and glamour as in the book. There were definitely more opulent scenes (the wedding and subsequent parties in particular) in the movie, but I still felt like some of the production quality and level of lavishness may have been held back a bit, possibly for budgetary reasons. I also really missed being able to see the more complex version of Astrid’s story line that is included in the novel. The watered-down version of this secondary plot line present in the movie, combined with the actress’ (Gemma Chan) unfortunately pretty wooden portrayal, made it so that one of my favorite characters in the book felt almost like an after-thought in the film version.
Crazy Rich Asians
by Kevin Kwan
Publication Date: June 11th 2013
Length In Hardcover: 403 pages
Goodreads Rating: 3.78
Crazy Rich Asians is the outrageously funny debut novel about three super-rich, pedigreed Chinese families and the gossip, backbiting, and scheming that occurs when the heir to one of the most massive fortunes in Asia brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend to the wedding of the season.
Uproarious, addictive, and filled with jaw-dropping opulence, Crazy Rich Asians is an insider’s look at the Asian Jet Set; a perfect depiction of the clash between old money and new money; between Overseas Chinese and Mainland Chinese; and a fabulous novel about what it means to be young, in love, and gloriously, crazily rich.
Different than average. I’m not much of a chick lit or romance novel reader, so I didn’t know how I’d feel about Crazy Rich Asians going into it. Other similar light novels typically feel superficial and poorly written to me, and I can’t say that Crazy Rich Asians had the most high-brow writing. However, the novel successfully departs from the chick lit genre sufficiently to appeal to someone like me who normally avoids that genre entirely. It’s certainly an easy, breezy and quick read, but it’s also highly entertaining, quite funny at times, and unusual enough in its characters and locations to feel unique.
Glitzy setting. One of the main attractions of the novel, for me, was to be able to peek in voyeuristically on the lives of the super rich of Singapore. I really enjoyed the passages dedicated to their opulent lifestyles – the fashion, houses, cars, jets and vacations. Singapore is also one of the Asian countries with which I was least familiar, and so I actually learned a lot about its culture, customs, food and urban life from the novel. Combined with a couple of its slightly more complex and captivating characters (Astrid and Peik Lin), the novel ended up being a very engaging read.
Simplistic. This is the failing for most chick lit titles for me – many key parts of their construction end up feeling over-simplified and superficial. Crazy Rich Asians suffered from some of that. The two protagonists in particular (Nick and Rachel) felt like they barely had personalities. They were so sweet and innocent, and their relationship so sugary and perfect, that it was hard to connect with them in any meaningful way. The main plot of the novel that centered around them was also very bare bones – the typical boilerplate star-crossed lovers fare – with no surprising twists.
Repetitive. I loved the descriptions of the character’s fancy houses, expensive clothes and outrageous parties at the beginning of the novel. By the end, however, it seemed the author was trying to substitute more and more lavish details of gaudy possessions for an actually engaging plot. The repetitiveness of these passages, used to demonstrate how rich each of the families within the novel was, became quite boring. Despite the ending of the novel being left more open-ended than in the movie, I still felt that it was overly neat and cliched.
I think for fans of chick lit, Crazy Rich Asians will be an enjoyable original take on the genre. For others, I would advise to go into the book with the right expectations – it makes for a fun, breezy, uncomplicated read.
Kevin Kwan was born and raised in Singapore, where he attended Anglo-Chinese School in the mornings and spent his afternoons either hiding from his Chinese tutor or chasing after neighborhood dogs on his bike. After obtaining his first degree in creative writing from the University of Houston, Kevin moved to Manhattan to pursue a BFA at Parsons School of Design.
In 2000, Kevin established his own creative studio, where he specialized in producing high profile visual projects for clients such as the New York Times, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockwell Group, and TED.com. Throughout all this, Kevin always remained passionate about books. His critically-acclaimed debut novel Crazy Rich Asians became an international bestseller in 2013 and is now being made into a major motion picture by director Jon M. Chu and Warner Brothers Studios. Its sequel China Rich Girlfriend also became a smash hit around the world, and the final book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems, was released in May 2017.
Have you read Crazy Rich Asians and/or watched the movie? What did you think? Let me know in the comments.
You can also read my prior Book To Screen review for Ready Player One, or recent book reviews for the Leonardo Da Vinci biography by Walter Isaacson, historical mystery Call Of The Curlew by Elizabeth Brooks, true crime title A False Report by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong and contemporary fiction novel The Wangs Vs. The World by Jade Chang.
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