Last year, Crazy Rich Asians (2018) was released and became a global phenomenon. It was a hit at the box office, but it was a huge hit for romantic comedies. It also did a lot for Asian representation. It helped to cement its stars like Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Awkwafina as more household names. Wu was already a bit of a household name. She’s probably the breakout star of ABC’s Fresh Off the Boat, a sitcom that’s been on the air since 2015. That sitcom co-starred Randall Park, a Korean-American comedian who has been working in Hollywood for about 15 years, popping up in small roles in a lot of big-budget projects but never as a lead. Fresh Off the Boat was created by Nahnatchka Khan, an Iranian-American writer and producer. Khan had a staff of writers for her sitcom, including Ali Wong who seemed to have been only working in TV for less than a decade.
After Wu did that blockbuster rom-com though, it’s as if Park, Khan and Wong saw it and decided that they could do a rom-com too. Khan would direct. Park and Wong would co-write and be the actors in it. It might not be as expensive or a box office smash, but it is better in terms of the humor and in terms of the actual relationship depicted on screen. It also oddly deals with similar issues as Crazy Rich Asians, but this film does so in a deeper way.
Ali Wong (Tuca & Bertie and American Housewife) stars as Sasha Tran, a celebrity chef who lives in Los Angeles where she has her own restaurant. She’s essentially a crazy rich Asian but not Korean. She’s probably more of Vietnamese-descent. She’s engaged to a gorgeous and another, crazy rich Asian named Brandon Choi, played by Daniel Dae Kim (Hawaii Five-0 and Lost). She’s planning her wedding to Brandon, but the wedding gets postponed for a year or so. She was in the midst of opening a new restaurant in her hometown of San Francisco, so she instead heads there to focus on that for a few months or more.
Randall Park (Fresh Off the Boat and Veep) stars as Marcus Kim, an aspiring musician who is the leader of a hip hop band named “Hello Peril.” The band has been around for a decade or more but hasn’t become that successful. He’s not really trying to grow the band though. He spends a good chunk of time lounging around with his three other band-mates and smoking marijuana. His main job is working with his father in their two-man heating and air-conditioning company. Marcus still lives with his father, Harry, played by James Saito.
Marcus lives in San Francisco too, so he’s able to reconnect with Sasha when she returns to open her restaurant. It’s a little awkward, given that he hasn’t spoken to Sasha or had any contact with her in about 15 years. The two used to live next door to each other. They grew up together and even dated when they became teenagers. Sasha even was inspired to become a chef, thanks to Marcus’ mom. However, they had a fight in 2003 about the direction of their lives and how they feel about certain things, which caused Sasha to walk away from him.
This film is about the two of them coming back together and examining the paths that each of their lives took and why they took those paths. Even though their paths started out the same, the two ended up in extremely different places in terms of their socioeconomic statuses. Like Crazy Rich Asians, one ended up being very wealthy and the other ended up being average. The difference is that the genders for each is swapped here. In Crazy Rich Asians, it was the guy who was rich and a veritable prince charming, thus underscoring the fairy tale nature of it. In this film, it’s the girl who’s rich, though it’s portrayed more realistically, not making her a veritable princess but a way more relatable and down-to-Earth woman.
Crazy Rich Asians was all about the two main characters deciding whether or not they were going to be together, but it was all about the wealthy family accepting the non-wealthy person. It was anti-snobbery or it was about people finding value in someone for reasons other than their bank account or materialistic possessions. The focus was on external forces though, forces coming from those outside the core relationship. It was about getting acceptance from the family. It was less about forces from within the core relationship and how the two will meld their different lives and statuses.
Park and Wong as both actors and co-writers take their story further. Here, it’s not about getting acceptance from one of the couple’s family. Family acceptance is already given at the top of the film. Sasha and Marcus grew up as neighbors. It’s not about battling external forces. No, here, the forces come from within the couple. It is about how the two will meld their different lives and statuses. As such, it goes deeper than Crazy Rich Asians. It goes beyond the fairy tale and attempts to deal with actual, real life after the two have decided to be together, which gives this film a sense of reality that Crazy Rich Asians didn’t have.
Along the way, it provides us with jokes and comedic set-pieces that are funnier than Crazy Rich Asians. It perhaps helps that Park and Wong co-wrote or contributed to the screenplay. At least, they’re credited as such. Park and Wong are two really good comedians. Wong in particular has been praised over the past couple of years for her stand-up specials. As such, Park and Wong play really well off each other. They have good chemistry and good comedic timing. Wu and Henry Golding in Crazy Rich Asians had chemistry, but a lot of it was put on Wu’s shoulders, whereas Golding simply had to show up and look sexy, mostly without having to do much.
Golding simply isn’t as good an actor. A monologue at the end akin to the one at the end of Jerry Maguire (1996) is delivered better in the hands of Park than Golding. Park also is given funny things to say and do, making him even more charming. In what could be Park’s first leading role, he handles it so much better. He can even be sexy when the scene allows. The role here also gives more range for Park to play.
The supporting cast here is pretty spectacular. Crazy Rich Asians had a spectacular, supporting cast too. Chief among them was Awkwafina who stole the movie and possibly the year. Saito who is in his sixties gets to be funny here in a way that he normally hasn’t been able to do in his 40-year career. Michelle Buteau who plays Veronica, the pregnant lesbian, and, Vivian Bang who plays Jenny, the dreadlock-wearing, wannabe influencer are both funny, but they never steal the show like Awkwafina did. They do add wonderfully to the comedy, but they never steal focus away from Wong and Park who maintain the spotlight amazingly.
Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert! Spoiler alert!
The Internet has probably already spoiled it, but there is an actor who starts out as a cameo and then becomes a full-fledged supporting character in the film. This actor does steal the show in a way. The sequence in which the actor appears was just incredible. I was already won over by the film, but this sequence and this actor made me love the film even more. The actor’s identity is meant to be a surprise in the film, so revealing it is a bit of spoiler, but because I think the actor deserves so much credit, I have to acknowledge him. It’s Keanu Reeves. His role in this film is a literal knock-out. I agree with the Internet that has dubbed Reeves’ role here as the best celebrity cameo in years, if possibly ever.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content, drug use and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 42 mins.
Available on Netflix.