I went to go see this movie with two of our Sisters, both of whom are of Asian descent. I wanted to see if this interpretation on the big screen offended their sensibilities and culture as some have purported or if they would find it amusing and heartening to see an Asian-American story with Asians in the lead roles. To say the least, they enjoyed it immensely, especially because I heard them chuckle through most of the movie, even during a somewhat serious scene! For anyone who wants to see the Cinderella story reenacted in an Asian context, then this is the movie for you. It made me think of The Prince & Me with Julia Stiles or Ever After with Drew Barrymore but in a contemporary Eastern context.
Based on the book by Kevin Kwan and directed by Jon M. Chu this sweet and hilarious comedy reflects the importance of family even when the temptation to “have it all” comes into play. The film reveals in a flawless and intelligent way what is really important in life—the love of those who have given themselves to us. It is about being in a self-giving relationship that really matters. Although the setting places us in the midst of the filthy rich families of Singapore and their lavish parties, the movie directs our attention off of money as the goal of life, and situates the focus on the people who enrich the lives of the characters with fulfillment and joy.
The story begins in New York where Chinese-American heroine, Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a professor of economics at NYU. She dates a handsome Chinese-Singaporean named Nick Young (Henry Golding) who is going back home to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding and invites Rachel to join him. She thinks this is her chance to meet his family, which she knows nothing about. Only when they board their first class flight does he share with her only slightly about his family. He is the princeof one of Singapore’s wealthiest families, real estate developers who own extensive property and he wants them to meet Rachel. Once they arrive one of the first people they meet is his mother, the dominant and elegant Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), who is fiercely possessive of her son. And his paternal grandmother is the matriarch of the family who rules the roost making her opinion known about Nick’s girlfriend.
Rachel visits her college girlfriend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) who lives in a lesser mansion, gaudily decorated, with her eccentric family. She reveals to Rachel the celebrity status of Nick and his opulent family and helps Rachel navigate the Singaporean elite culture. Though seemingly accepted by the family, Rachel is invited to the bachelorette party of the soon-to-be-bride. She quickly learns of the prejudices toward Americans, even Chinese-Americans by the other Asians. Peik Lin, a true friend, comes to her rescue.
As Nick’s mother plots to remove Rachel from her son’s life, Rachel’s mother arrives from New York to comfort her daughter and tell her the truth about her father and her family’s past. Rachel comes to a new appreciation of her mother and, in true
Cinderella-like fashion, discovers a part of herself that she does not reveal to Nick but who finds out through the actions of his conniving mother and grandmother. The story has a happy ending, just as the fairy tale.
What is most enthralling about the film is how family is held in high importance, which is true of many of the Asian cultures, something we can learn from in the West. Family is your guide, support, and provider. Like any good thing it can be abused for power and wealth, as in this story. But, ultimately, it is family that wins out as well as true love, despite the economic differences of the lovers. Money does not buy happiness. This old adage seems overused, but underappreciated. Our celebrity-obsessed culture praises the lives of the rich and famous, while missing the point of how love often comes in the unexpected places and through the most unlikely people. Just as in the Cinderella of old, prejudice judges the externals without seeing the beauty of character and dignity within. With a twist of humor this version is sure to please more than those of Asian ancestry. It delights all audiences with a heightened awareness of our human need for family.