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Lots of appeal to ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

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From left, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu star in “Crazy Rich Asians.” (Courtesy Warner Bros.)

“Crazy Rich Asians,” based on Kevin Kwan’s novel, delivers a two-hour blast of comic energy, contains a sparkling lead performance, and marks a breakthrough in Hollywood’s struggle with representation. Despite its lack of satirical edge, it’s worthy of attention.

Directed by Jon M. Chu (“G.I. Joe: Retaliation”), the film is a vividly presented romantic comedy centering on a young couple navigating issues of love and obligation.

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Manhattan-based economics professor raised by a single Chinese immigrant mother, travels with her Oxford-educated professor boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to Singapore. There, Nick will attend a friend’s wedding and introduce Rachel to his family.

Nick hasn’t told Rachel that his family is rich — insanely so, she learns. Assisted by fashion-savvy college pal Peik Lin (Awkwafina), Rachel attempts to fit in with Nick’s clan.

She meets gossipy aunties, nutty cousins, and, most dauntingly, Nick’s mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Eleanor deems Rachel too American and too humbly bred to be good enough for her son, whom she expects to take over the family’s real-estate empire.

At the bride’s outrageously luxurious bachelorette party, Rachel encounters other detractors — jealous mean girls branding her a gold-digger.

Nick must choose between his love for Rachel and his loyalty to the family dynasty. Rachel, inspired by a visit from her own mother (Tan Kheng Hua), develops the courage necessary to confront Eleanor.

Expect a climax at the airport.

Indeed, this is a corny Cinderella story. The movie often appears to be awed by the same outrageous wealth it purports to be ridiculing, and the comedy is sometimes broad and overplayed.

Still, it succeeds as full-steam entertainment about love, family, money and priorities, presented through Asian, Asian-American, and universal lenses. Chu nimbly juggles numerous characters — male cousins with the wrong stuff, and self-described “rainbow sheep” Oliver (Nico Santos), who presides over a rom-commy trying-on-dresses session, among them.

Additional dazzle includes sights in Singapore, shots of Asian street food, and a Young family favorite: Western designer clothing.

Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim’s screenplay contains some memorable lines and scenarios. A mah-jongg showdown is a highlight.

As you’ve likely heard, the film is the first major Hollywood release since Wayne Wang’s “The Joy Luck Club” in 1993 to have an all-Asian cast and an Asian director. Numerous fine performances stem from that distinction.

Wu (from TV’s “Fresh off the Boat”), an exciting big-screen presence, gives the movie a radiant heroine who can convincingly take on Eleanor. (Jane Austen would have loved her.)

Yeoh brings needed nuance to Eleanor. If played by a lesser actress, she’d come across as a stereotype and monster.

Rapper Awkwafina delights as the uninhibited Peik Lin, whose nouveau riche family gets the funniest lines.

“Finish your chicken nuggets,” her unclassy father (an over-the-top Ken Jeong) tells his youngest. There are “children starving in America.”

REVIEW
Crazy Rich Asians
Three stars
Starring: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina
Written by: Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim
Directed by: Jon M. Chu
Rated: PG-13
Running time: 2 hours, 1 minute

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