Film & TV

Crazy Rich Asians and the Joy of Wealth

Crazy Rich Asians (Sanja Bucko/Warner Bros.)
The secret of the surprise hit of the summer is simple: Being rich is a lot of fun.

‘Oh what a feelin’, f**k it I want a billion,” Jay-Z raps in 2013’s “Picasso Baby.” It’s the sound of an American who can scarcely believe his good fortune and is determined to wring every ounce of pleasure from it. What is life like when you can have everything? It sounds . . . delirious. “Marble floors, gold ceilings,” “twin Bugattis,” “Champagne on my breath, yes.” Why not? Jay-Z can afford it all. His house is “like the Louvre or the Tate Modern.” He’s got a yellow Basquiat in the kitchen corner: “Go ahead and lean on that s**t, Blue, you own it.”

Hip-hop isn’t just a Scrooge McDuck deep dive in the money, but that’s a big part of its appeal, and in the wealthiest country that ever was, at the wealthiest it’s ever been, that unbridled exuberance about financial success is surprisingly rare. The more refined precincts of literature, music, film, and television find being rich as embarrassing as an old-money WASP. George Clooney and the Coen Brothers surely know a lot about how wonderful it is to have access to wealth that would flabbergast Croesus, but they’ll never make a movie about it. Their dirty secret is that being rich is . . . fun.

Even thinking about other people’s wealth is inviting and inspiring, if you can relate to the people who made it to the top of the ladder. If Jay-Z, a guy who “used to cop in Harlem,” can make it all the way to “Christie’s with my missy,” fantasy can become reality. Hence the appeal of Crazy Rich Asians, a surprise summer blockbuster that’s being widely hailed as a breakthrough for “diversity” and “inclusion.” Nah. It’s not a breakthrough at all. It’s a throwback celebration of money. Like “Picasso Baby,” it’s a lesson in how to “live life colossal.”

A love story about a working-class girl from Queens whose boyfriend is an heir to a massive family fortune, Crazy Rich Asian has become a box-office phenomenon, on track to earn well over $100 million domestically. For a film that has neither stars nor special effects and isn’t a musical, that’s almost unheard-of. You’d have to go back to the Sandra Bullock–Ryan Reynolds movie The Proposal, nine years ago, to find a romcom that has done this well. Hollywood has all but given up on the genre.

What’s more, Crazy Rich Asians is no model of the form. With its sloppy script and paucity of good jokes, it’s a formulaic exercise that begins with an absurdity (that a New York woman could be dating a billionaire celebrity who is the most eligible bachelor in Asia, and not know any of this about him), forgets to put in much conflict to move the plot forward until the second half, and then simply ends with the plot’s central problem unresolved.

So, why have millions of viewers been drawn to it anyway? The spectacle of bling. The orgy of stuff. If this were a movie about working-class Asians running a business in Queens, it wouldn’t be the sensation that it is. The success of Crazy Rich Asians is off the charts because the success in Crazy Rich Asians is off the charts. It’s a luxury-lifestyle catalogue on a 40-foot screen. How many other movies can say that? There’s a joke in the movie in which, arriving at an impossibly posh and lavish family compound in Singapore, someone says, “This is like the Asian Bachelor.” It is, and that’s what sells it: Everything is amazingly, eye-poppingly beautiful and lush. Almost everyone is beautiful, fit, and stylishly clad. The bachelor party takes place on a huge freighter, in international waters, in the company of bikini models from around the world. The bachelorette party kicks off with an invitation to ransack a designer boutique, everything paid for in advance, and follows up with everyone getting a seaside massage at an immaculate tropical hotel.

There are a couple of points where the movie stops so we can gawk at a $1.2 million pair of earrings. There’s a crazy rooftop party on a skyscraper. There are uniformed servants and amazing sports cars. There’s a wedding in which the aisle is turned into a beautiful running stream before the bride walks down it. (No, I don’t know how that would work, either.) The soundtrack bubbles with Chinese cover versions of songs like “Money (That’s What I Want)” and “Material Girl.” At the screening I attended the entire theater burst into applause at the sight of an engagement ring set with an emerald big enough to choke a T. Rex. Put it this way: Everyone’s so rich that an NYU economist (charmingly played by Constance Wu opposite Henry Golding as her billionaire beau) is the Cinderella figure. Compared to everyone else in the film, a character on a low-six-figure salary is a guttersnipe.

Yes, there are a few Asian-specific cultural signifiers in this movie that have gotten the columnists overly excited — “Why the mahjong scene in Crazy Rich Asians is so important,” a CBS News headline blared. But nobody’s paying 20 bucks for a movie ticket to watch other people play mahjong. We go to movies for escape, and Crazy Rich Asians provides it by letting viewers revel in limitless lucre guilt-free.

 

Most Popular

Culture

Thank You, Kanye West

It was “a plan by the Devil to have our kids committing suicide at an all-time high.” So said Kanye West, who recently declared, via Twitter, that he was running for president, on the “Birthday Party” ticket. It’s about the best explanation I’ve heard for the non-coronavirus that plagues us. There’s ... Read More
Culture

Thank You, Kanye West

It was “a plan by the Devil to have our kids committing suicide at an all-time high.” So said Kanye West, who recently declared, via Twitter, that he was running for president, on the “Birthday Party” ticket. It’s about the best explanation I’ve heard for the non-coronavirus that plagues us. There’s ... Read More
Education

The Case for Reopening Schools

On the menu today: My reader who is the head of research for a top-ten hospital weighs in on how to get kids back into classrooms safely this fall, a blathering Biden comment I missed that could have gotten his Twitter account suspended, and California’s state government tries to implement an ambitious ... Read More
Education

The Case for Reopening Schools

On the menu today: My reader who is the head of research for a top-ten hospital weighs in on how to get kids back into classrooms safely this fall, a blathering Biden comment I missed that could have gotten his Twitter account suspended, and California’s state government tries to implement an ambitious ... Read More
Markets

Panic on ESG Street

The sub-headline in a Financial Times story on the anguished reaction of some asset managers to the Trump administration’s belated (if modest) efforts to protect the threat to pensioners' investment returns represented by “socially responsible” investing (SRI) shows where the paper’s sympathies lie (not ... Read More
Markets

Panic on ESG Street

The sub-headline in a Financial Times story on the anguished reaction of some asset managers to the Trump administration’s belated (if modest) efforts to protect the threat to pensioners' investment returns represented by “socially responsible” investing (SRI) shows where the paper’s sympathies lie (not ... Read More
Culture

The Fragility of the Woke

A TikTok video that recently went viral on social media showed a recent Harvard graduate threatening to stab anyone who said “all lives matter.” In her melodrama, she tried to sound intimidating with her histrionics. She won a huge audience, as she intended. But her video also came to the attention of the ... Read More
Culture

The Fragility of the Woke

A TikTok video that recently went viral on social media showed a recent Harvard graduate threatening to stab anyone who said “all lives matter.” In her melodrama, she tried to sound intimidating with her histrionics. She won a huge audience, as she intended. But her video also came to the attention of the ... Read More

The Devil Wears Prada: CDC Edition

Fade In: The Runway Magazine team is busily trying to arrange things for the next fashion shoot. Miranda Priestly, the imperious and impatient and withering editor in chief, sorts through the various items from the racks of couture garments. The underlings stand by, terrified. Off to the side, Miranda’s ... Read More

The Devil Wears Prada: CDC Edition

Fade In: The Runway Magazine team is busily trying to arrange things for the next fashion shoot. Miranda Priestly, the imperious and impatient and withering editor in chief, sorts through the various items from the racks of couture garments. The underlings stand by, terrified. Off to the side, Miranda’s ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Ideological Corruption of Science

Why don't many people “trust the science” anymore? Perhaps because science, as an institution, has fallen prey to the same ideological infection that has invaded and corrupted many other institutions. But it is too rarely discussed, which is why a Sunday Wall Street Journal column by theoretical physicist ... Read More
Science & Tech

The Ideological Corruption of Science

Why don't many people “trust the science” anymore? Perhaps because science, as an institution, has fallen prey to the same ideological infection that has invaded and corrupted many other institutions. But it is too rarely discussed, which is why a Sunday Wall Street Journal column by theoretical physicist ... Read More
National Review

Saturday Night with Bill Buckley

Our late founder rules tonight (July 11) on C-SPAN2, which marks its Summer Series program by rebroadcasting nearly six straight hours of discussions of select books and one in-depth interview on Bill’s overall body of work. Here’s the lineup (times are Eastern): 8:01 p.m.: A 1993 interview with Brian Lamb ... Read More
National Review

Saturday Night with Bill Buckley

Our late founder rules tonight (July 11) on C-SPAN2, which marks its Summer Series program by rebroadcasting nearly six straight hours of discussions of select books and one in-depth interview on Bill’s overall body of work. Here’s the lineup (times are Eastern): 8:01 p.m.: A 1993 interview with Brian Lamb ... Read More