Crazy Rich Asians

Genre: Romance, Comedy

Director: Jon M. Chu

Screenplay: Peter Chiarelli, Adele Lim, based on the novel by Kevin Kwan

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Carmen Soo, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie

Running Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Crazy Rich Asians follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore. Excited about visiting Asia for the first time but nervous about meeting Nick’s family, Rachel is unprepared to learn that Nick has neglected to mention a few key details about his life. It turns out that he is not only the scion of one of the country’s wealthiest families but also one of its most sought-after bachelors. Being on Nick’s arm puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites and, worse, Nick’s own disapproving mother (Michelle Yeoh) taking aim. And it soon becomes clear that while money can’t buy love, it can definitely complicate things.

Review: Easily the most talked-about movie to hit local theatres in months, Crazy Rich Asians comes with a lot of additional baggage for its Singapore release. After all, Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel is set in Singapore, and this movie adaptation features not only many glamour shots of Singapore, but also a whole slew of Singaporean actors. One cannot deny the initial thrill of seeing this many familiar faces and places in a true-blue Hollywood production, but once the rush fades, is Crazy Rich Asians actually a good movie? The answer is… kind of.

At its heart, Crazy Rich Asians is simply a good old-fashioned fish-out-of-water romantic comedy, containing almost every trope that a film of the genre would (or should) have, which makes the film quite enjoyable at its most basic level. It helps that Golding and Wu share a good onscreen chemistry, and in particular Wu’s engaging performance would make audiences root for her from very early on in the proceedings. However, it’s Michelle Yeoh that truly impresses as Eleanor, and she’s transformed the stern matriarch from a rather one-dimensional villain into a complex, believable character who values family above all else.

Kevin Kwan’s novel was a sprawling book with many characters, and while Chiarelli and Lim’s screenplay tries its best to corral the narrative, the film is an uneven one, especially whenever the central couple spends time apart and the film gets caught up with one of the many underdeveloped subplots. Particularly under-baked is the troubled relationship of Astrid and Michael, which is a pity because both Gemma Chan and Pierre Png seem to have so much more to offer. And while there are many recognizable faces for most Singaporean audiences, none of the other supporting cast members leave much of an impression apart from Awkwafina (effortlessly stealing the limelight just like in Ocean’s 8) as Rachel’s college friend Peik Lin and Nico Santos as Nick’s gay cousin Oliver.

There has been some blowback amongst locals regarding the underrepresentation of minorities in Singapore in the film, but the fact of the matter is that this is after all a Hollywood production of a novel that didn’t make any minority representation in the first place. It’s a film that’s made with American sensibilities in mind, and any illusions that this is a “true” Asian film should have been cast aside from the beginning. There are plenty of Asian filmmakers making Asian films with Asian casts, so why would we even look to this Hollywood film to make this kind of representation for us? It’s an unnecessary criticism of a show that’s not designed to be anything more than a romantic comedy that appeals to the masses.

And mass appeal is what Crazy Rich Asians has in spades. It is a film that has something for almost everyone while not really excelling in any one aspect – it has some luxury and food porn, a somewhat engaging central romance, occasionally entertaining comedic sequences, and familial moments that would resonate with some Asian audiences. It’s great that the film has performed well in the US domestic market (and I foresee it doing well in Singapore as well), which importantly keeps the door open for future shows with stronger Asian American representation. This is no Black Panther or Get Out, to be sure, but it’s legitimately entertaining fluff as long as one goes in with the right expectations.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

 

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Horns

Genre: Horror, Romance, Comedy

Director: Alexander Aja

Writer: Keith Bunin, based on the novel of the same name by Joe Hill

Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson, Kelli Garner, Heather Graham, David Morse, Kathleen Quinlan, James Remar

Running Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis: Horns is a supernatural thriller driven by fantasy, mystery and romance. The film follows Ig Perrish (Daniel Radcliffe), the number one suspect for the violent rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin (Juno Temple). Hungover from a night of hard drinking, Ig awakens one morning to find horns starting to grow from his own head and soon realizes their power drives people to confess their sins and give in to their most selfish and unspeakable impulses – an effective tool in his quest to discover the true circumstances of his late girlfriend’s tragedy and for exacting revenge on her killer.

Review: It was probably a mistake from the get-go to adapt Horns into a film – I have not had the opportunity to read the novel by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), but if all the elements in the movie were found in the source novel, it should definitely be classified under the “unfilmable” category. Horns simply fails to work as a movie – it is overstuffed with clashing elements and can’t decide whether it wants to be a dark comedy, a horror, a whodunit or a romance, and tries to be everything all at once. The end result is unsurprisingly a muddled mess that even Harry Potter can’t save, and a film that swings so wildly in tone and pace that it feels like it was helmed by an amateur.

And to be honest, Daniel Radcliffe is actually part of the problem. One can definitely understand the need to divorce himself from an iconic role like Harry Potter, but whilst Radcliffe has appeared in a good number of indie films in the process, his performance in Horns is too much. Radcliffe has to realize that his dial need not be set at 11 the entire film, and just because it’s a forceful performance doesn’t mean it’s a good one. Radcliffe’s portrayal of Ig is so forced that all subtlety is lost, and although he does prove that he can work with a broad range of emotions, and there are moments of brilliance amidst all the overacting.

Although it seems that Horns has aspirations to be a genre bender, it does not do so very successfully. The coming of age flashbacks are pretty decent, but the romance, the mystery and the horror are all subpar. We’re never fully convinced of the supposedly deep love between Ig and Merrin, and the mystery has a laughably obvious reveal, done in by screenwriter Keith Bunin’s script which telegraphs every twist way in advance. The horror just comes across at best as being darkly comic (not exactly a bad thing, but the film doesn’t go far enough with this aspect either), and at worst it’s farcical and underscored by awful CG effects (some of the worst I’ve seen in a long while).

The final reel of Horns is really what takes the cake – it feels as though the writers were making up the ending as they went along, and the result is a lazy, inexplicable, genuinely ridiculous denouement that threatens to unravel the entire movie. The film ends with a whimper instead of a bang, and that it took a good two hours to get to the unsatisfying finale is just rubbing salt in the wound. Although there were a number of enjoyable moments in the film, Horns is simply too inconsistent to earn  a solid recommendation.

Rating: * ½ (out of four stars)

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The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom

Genre: Action, Romance, Drama

Director: Jacob Cheung

Writers: Kang Qiao, Wang Bing, Guo Jinle, Shi Heran, Zhu Yale

Cast: Fan Bingbing, Huang Xiaoming, Vincent Chao, Wang Xuebing

Running Length: 103 minutes

Synopsis: At the end of the Ming Dynasty, corruption is rife, a traitor is in power and the Jin army is threatening war. In the Northwest, famine is rife. Jade Raksha (Fan Bing Bing), a female pugilist thought of as evil throughout the empire, helps the victims of the famine by arresting and killing corrupt officials.

Meanwhile, the future successor of the Wudang Sect, Zhuo Yihang (Huang Xiaoming) is dispatched to Beijing to pay tribute to the emperor. He encounters Jade Raksha and sees that she is not the evil person she is rumored to be. Despite their differences, they begin to fall in love.

Review: Cinemagoers who are familiar with the source novel by Liang Yusheng will know that Ronny Yu’s iconic Bride with White Hair in 1993 did not do the novel any justice, and really the final product did not feel like a “proper” adaptation, more a wuxia film inspired by the novel. In this new 2014 incarnation, Jacob Cheung and his team of writers have managed to include a lot more of the novel and historical context into the film, but it is still a rather uneven effort.

The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom (what a mouthful!) runs a lean 103 minutes, but boy is it overstuffed, especially when it comes to the plot – incorporating political intrigue, a Romeo and Juliet-esque romance, a wuxia movie, and a half-baked “undercover cop” plot element in such a short amount of time is an unwise endeavour, since it just means everything is given short shrift.

The biggest problem to arise from this is that the central romance between Jade Raksha and Zhuo Yi Hang simply does not come across as being convincing, despite commendable thespian efforts from both Huang Xiaoming and Fan Bing Bing. Due to this lack of emotional heft, it is quite difficult to feel vested in either character, regardless of how hard the director tries. And tries he does, complete with an at-times overbearing score and a cheesy song segment that seems to have been transplanted intact from the early 90s wuxia films.

The film does have its merits, however, with impressive production design – the costumes (by the Oscar-winning Timmy Yip) in particular are quite well done, and the action choreography by Stephen Tung delivers, though annoyingly there are very few scenes in which the action is allowed to play out. While it may be a bit too emo and busy for its own good, The White Haired Witch of the Lunar Kingdom remains one of the better Chinese films I’ve seen this year to date, which says quite a bit about the state of the Chinese film industry these days.

Rating: * * ½ (out of four stars)

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