Now that I’ve reviewed the book, once again it’s time to see how the movie measures up. All in all, I think that it’s a good adaptation. Every film adaptation has differences and omissions from the source material. I tried to keep my review of the novel fairly spoiler-free, but I’m going to be more loose with discussing plot details. So, let that be your spoiler alert.
The premise of the film Crazy Rich Asians is pretty much the same as the book. This time the story is condensed into spring break rather than summer break. So rather than a month or so, all of the events happen in a week.
I noticed that much of the conflict is kind of downplayed. Nick’s keeping his family from Rachel and throwing her into the lion’s den without preparation doesn’t escalate to the point that it does in the book. Rachel is never so hurt that she decides to leave Nick. However, it’s still believable since Nick is a bit more open about his family. He never talked about them before he and Rachel are getting ready to leave for Singapore, but it’s implied that he and Rachel talk about his family on the plane ride over, so she at least has a primer before she has to dive in head first.
While normally the changes and omissions that come with a movie can be a little annoying. And yes, some of them are a bit annoying here, but there is a whole scene that the film omits that I am so glad I didn’t have to see on screen.
In the film version of Colin Khoo’s bachelor party, Bernard goes directly to his mega-yacht and skips over the failed hangouts that came prior in the book. I don’t think that the two brief scenes that came before that point weren’t vital to the plot, and if any scenes had to be shortened, that was a good place to do it.
Also, Bernard initially tries to take the groomsmen to a dogfighting arena. The only thing that I walked into Crazy Rich Asians hoping for was that I wouldn’t have to see that on screen. It wasn’t a scene that would have worked with the tone of a romantic comedy, and omitting my least favorite scene from the book made the film experience so much better.
That being said, I can tell that adopting such a winding, complex novel into a 90-odd minute move is a task unto itself. Astrid’s marriage collapsing didn’t get the screen time that it really needed to show the lengths that Michael went to so that he could have a way to escape his unhappy marriage while preserving her relationship with her family. Since her character arc got cut so short, it did make sense that the film re-frames the situation in a way that still empowers Astrid. Instead of facing the effect that her family’s rules have on her happiness, she learns that she doesn’t need to hide her interests to protect a man’s ego.
Similarly, Rachel’s character arc feels more defiant and interesting. Eleanor has an extra reason to dislike Rachel in the movie: she’s an American, with all the idealism, individualism, and ambition that are cornerstones of American values. Rachel doesn’t just survive the clan’s attitude towards her, she fights back and eventually gets Eleanor on her side. There’s a scene I particularly enjoyed in which Rachel meets Eleanor for mahjong to tell her that she turned down Nick’s marriage proposal so that he didn’t have to choose between his love and his family. She made the choice for him so that he wouldn’t have to either lose his family or spend his life resenting his mother. At the end of the scene, Rachel wins both the game of mahjong and the battle of wills between her and Eleanor. Perhaps the dog fighting scene was cut in favor of this one? If it came down to the two, I’m glad I got to see this new scene.
The revelation of who Rachel’s father is is even more out of nowhere in the movie. It’s glanced over and there’s not that revelation that even Eleanor’s resources are limited and couldn’t find the entire truth. Instead, she figured out basically the entire story. It was a difficult story arc to adapt nonetheless, and it was one of my least favorite parts of the book.
As a film, I thought that Crazy Rich Asians was a creative and fun adaptation of the source material. The music and visual design created a unique experience that gave the film an identity all its own. I saw some old favorite actors like Ken Jeong or Ronnie Chieng, and I got to see some actors I haven’t seen before. I thought that Awqwafina’s performance as Piek Lin was spot-on and now I want to watch more projects that she’s been in.
Overall, the book was better, as tends to be the case with film adaptations. Still, I think the movie was worth seeing and still gives surprises for people that have read the book.