‘Fresh Off the Boat” Episode Review: “The Hand That Sits the Cradle”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 2: “The Hand That Sits the Cradle”
Original airdate October 12, 2018.

I’m goin’ out tonight: Jessica volunteers to take care of Honey’s zuo yue zi (“sitting the month,” which I just learned is a thousand-year-old tradition).  Her insistence on Honey’s taking it easy makes Honey suspicious, overheated, and wine-deprived.  She has a feeling Jessica is compensating for something.  Louis takes advantage of Jessica’s being at Honey’s house for a month by trying to bond with Evan, who’s much more interested in doing his own thing until Jessica returns home.  His own thing includes reading Churchill: Lad to Legend.  Eddie and Emery are inspired by Pumping Iron to get into bodybuilding, mostly because they “just want to get stronger than Grandma.”

I’m feelin’ all right: There’s something endearing about Jessica’s not knowing how to deal with (or talk about) the failure of her novel, A Case of a Knife to the Brain.  She seems humbled in a way she’s completely unprepared to understand, and rather than lash out or muscle her will into being, she wanders.  I love this Jessica, and Constance Wu does some wonderful acting in the scene where Honey calls her out.  I also will not complain about any Honey-heavy episode that’s not baby-centric.

Eddie-Emery partnerships are almost always interesting, and Louis going too far while being focused on someone else is one of the best Louises.

Some lines I enjoyed: “I sleep on her failure every night” (Grandma).  “There’s no such thing as quality time.  There’s just time” (Jessica).

Gonna let it all hang out: I have no real complaints about this episode.  Even Marvin is charming (especially when he says he’s hit his pre-baby weight: before Nicole, who’s 18).  But this is the second episode of the season, so it’s apparent that there is no Roseanne joke coming.  Come on, FOtB writers.  The door is wide open for a very funny joke about Roseanne Connor throwing the Huangs under the boat and then finding herself written out of existence.  It doesn’t have to be cruel; it can just be pointed.

FOB moment:  I learned something about sitting the month.  There’s also something cultural in “There’s no such thing as quality time; there’s just time,” right?

Soundtrack flashback:  “Man! I Feel Like a Woman” by Shania Twain (1997).

Final grade, this episode: An altogether pleasant episode that doesn’t distinguish itself from the rest of the utterly competent episodes making up most of the corpus. B.

Non-Spoiler ‘Fresh Off the Boat’ Episode Review: “Fresh Off the RV”

Fresh Off the Boat, Season 5, Episode 1: “Fresh Off the RV” (season premiere)
Airs tonight, October 5, 2018 at 8:00.

It’s the end of summer, 1998 in Fresh Off the Boat time, and it’s time for Honey to have her child, and it’s time for Marvin to give up his sports car, and it’s time for Jessica’s novel A Case of a Knife to the Brain to finally see its release.  Nicole and Eddie have some Saturn Time: Nicole’s got some big news for her best friend.

The official summary from ABC gives more details than I would, so skip this paragraph if you’re very sensitive about spoilers.

While Honey and Marvin celebrate the birth of their baby, Jessica’s book is finally released, and she’s optimistically looking forward to a book store reading that’s been set up by her publisher to help boost sales. Louis is so excited to promote the book across the country that he buys an RV from Los Angeles Lakers great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who owns an RV dealership which is managed by underappreciated Calvin (Jaleel White, “Family Matters”). Meanwhile, Emery and Evan are concerned about Eddie after Nicole tells him that she’s moving to New York, and he seems completely unfazed about losing his best friend.

It feels like the show is slipping into its groove.  All the characters feel familiar, and there’s even a celebrity cameo in the RV sales lot across the street from Shaq Motors.  It has a few surprises and laugh-aloud moments, and everyone looks great.  Especially Jessica.  I’ll comment on a couple of disappointments in my review of episode 2 next week.

Part of the plot is suspect.  People line up for a certain novel published in the U.S. on September 1, 1998, but I don’t think it was quite the phenomenon its successors were in following years.

Soundtrack flashback: “Everywhere You Look” by Jesse Frederick, the opening theme for Full  House.  “Back in the Day” by Ahmad (1994).

My grade for this episode: B.

8mm Review: ‘A Simple Favor’

A Simple Favor (2018)
Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding.  Written by Jessica Sharzer (based on the novel by Darcey Bell).  Directed by Paul Feig.

A Simple Favor is being marketed as a thriller, but it’s really more of a mystery, so if you’re put off by thrillers (as I am), be assured that it’s not very scary and not very violent, and it doesn’t have edge-of-your-seat moments the way thrillers usually do.

Anna Kendrick plays Stephanie, a widowed mother who puts her name next to three jobs for her young son’s class party sign-up sheet while the other parents say mean things about her behind her back.  When she’s not volunteering for class mom activities, she produces a vlog for other moms.

She meets Emily, the beautiful mother of her son’s classmate.  Stephanie and Emily become friends, but for Stephanie it’s a very uneasy friendship.  Emily is wealthier, more successful, and more adventurous than she is, and where Stephanie is eager to please and quick to apologize, Emily seems to disdain any attitude that doesn’t begin with oneself.  She admonishes Stephanie for saying “I’m sorry,” and threatens to punch her in the face if Stephanie ever says it again.

Emily disappears a week after she befriends Stephanie, and the rest of the film involves finding out what happened to her.

It’s fun in the way a good puzzle mystery is fun, engaging all the way and difficult to predict.  Every character seems at times likeable and despicable, with nice performances by Kendrick, Lively, and Henry Golding as Sean, Stephanie’s husband.

Early promo materials (including trailers) featured only Kendrick and Lively, but the success of Crazy Rich Asians, which stars Golding, had the studio releasing new promos highlighting all three principal actors.  This is not meaningless: there’s no way to tell if it’s lasting, but there has already been a Crazy Rich Asians diversity effect even on films already completed before its release.

Anna Kendrick is my second-favorite actress over the past several years, so there’s a huge bias here, but if you also find her charming, you’ll want to see this film.  If not, deduct a few points and see it anyway for a good two hours of engaging escapism.

Rating: 79/100

8Tracks Review: ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ by BTS

Love Yourself: Answer by BTS
Big Hit Entertainment 2018

The new BTS compilation album (with 7 new tracks!) dropped August 24, and if you know even one person who’s a BTS fan, you knew about it probably a couple of weeks in advance because BTSers could not shut up.  I can’t say for sure, but I’m pretty sure anticipation of the new album even brought one of my friends out of Twitter hibernation.

Fake love

Until a few years ago, I was a high-school teacher, so I’ve seen boy-band crazes come and go, but there has never been anything like this BTS thing.  Among those in my life who can’t stop are a retired middle-school teacher, the esteemed restaurant critic of the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, and one of my college friends who took her daughter (or daughters? I’m a bad friend) to Los Angeles to see the group in concert.  I’m in my late 40s, and each of these women is in that neighborhood, something I only mention to highlight the fact that something very unusual is going on here.  This did not happen with N*Sync.

I’ve heard snippets, you know?  Never a whole song, but little bits of music in people’s Instagram stories, and nothing stood out for me.  It was K-pop and it sounded like K-pop and it didn’t sound to me any better or worse than any other K-pop.

I get it.  For those unfamiliar with a genre, it all sounds the same.  I’m a metalhead and I realize that to casual observers, all my favorite metal bands sound the same (that is, mostly terrible) when nothing could be further from the truth.

These are people whose opinions I value on wide ranges of topics including music and art.  One early-30s blogger I’ve become online acquaintances with turned me on to emo-screamo band Thursday, and I dig a lot of the music she likes, but now she’s all about BTS.

(l to r) the cute one, the smart one, the quiet one, the rambunctious one, the ladies’ man, the kind one, the animal lover, the future televangelist

Two weekends ago I made a commitment to give it the fairest shot I could.  I was going to listen to Love Yourself: Answer all weekend long, and only this album.

And I didn’t care for it, but by the end of the weekend, I could name (and even sing along with) a couple of tracks I actually like, and most of the time the rest of the songs weren’t bad.

Continue reading “8Tracks Review: ‘Love Yourself: Answer’ by BTS”

8Books Review: Heroine’s Journey by Sarah Kuhn

Heroine’s Journey brings an end to Sarah Kuhn’s delightful Asian American superheroine trilogy. In the first of the series, Heroine Complex, we meet Evie Tanaka, assistant to superheroine Aveda Jupiter. In the second, Heroine Worship, we explore Aveda Jupiter aka Annie Chang’s inner self. And here in the last, we traverse between worlds with Bea Tanaka, Evie’s younger sister, as she tries to, well, what else, save the world from demon destruction. Bea’s superpower is that she can project emotions, controlling how others are feeling.

This final installment reminds me why I loved the original Heroine Complex so much. It’s got tons of great Asian American female characters, a stubborn but relatable title character, some sizzling hot romance scenes, and giant demonic unicorns. It’s got mother-daughter stuff, repressed emotions, katsu, and lots of rule breaking.

Incredibly fun to read and engaging, this book is in the “missed my subway stop while reading” category, so you know it’s a good one.

8Tracks Review: ‘Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites’ by Yo-Yo Ma

Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites by Yo-Yo Ma
Sony Classical, 2018

And cello to you, too

Yo-Yo Ma’s latest album dropped August 17, and it would have been great to review it then, but you know.  Crazy Rich Asians.  And then Mitski.

The master cellist writes on his website:

Bach’s Cello Suites have been my constant musical companions. For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort, and joy during times of stress, celebration, and loss. What power does this music possess that even today, after three hundred years, it continues to help us navigate through troubled times? Now that I’m in my sixties, I realize that my sense of time has changed, both in life and in music, at once expanded and compressed. Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn ‘them’ into ‘us.’ And these things have never been more important.

Suite!

Rather than list the tracks, I’ll quickly explain what this is, in case it’s confusing.  I just learned some of this stuff this past week in preparation to write this review, so please, if I get any of it wrong, let me know in the comments!

There are six Bach cello suites:
Suite no. 1 in G Major
Suite no. 2 in D Minor
Suite no. 3 in C Major
Suite no. 4 in E-Flat Major
Suite no. 5 in C Minor
Suite no. 6 in D Major.

The tracklists include the Bach catalogue number for each suite, abbreviated BWV 107 through BWV 112.  BWV stands for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, or “Bach works catalogue.”

Each suite is made of six movements: a prelude, and then five movements based on types of baroque dances.  So all six suites go prelude, allemande, courante, sarabande, two minuets, gigue.

This all makes for suuuuuuper long and confusing track titles.  Track 5, for example, is “Unaccompanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007: V. Menuets I & II.”  For some reason the tracks on Amazon music are nearly twice as long, repeating the “Unaccomanied Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007” part!  Still despite this crazy nomenclature, with the info here, everything makes a lot more sense!

Major!

I’m not smart enough about this music to say much more than that it’s just beautiful.  My record library includes music featuring a lot of cello, including the neo-bluegrass group Crooked Still, the Scottish dance music of Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas, and the heavy metal of Apocalyptica.  But as much as that music makes my heart swoon, none of it makes it want to leap up and explode like the playing of Yo-Yo Ma.  I cannot tell you why.  His Japanese Melodies album was in constant rotation in my red pickup truck when I was in college, and his Hush album with Bobby McFerrin can sometimes make me cry.

This album is better than those.  No, I can’t explain it.  And I can’t recognize any of the individual movements without looking at the tracklist.  And I can’t tell you anything about why these are masterworks other than they are Bach compositions.  I can just say it’s beautiful.

9/10

Coda

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Here’s Yo-Yo Ma on The Late Show with David Letterman in 1994.  The first part of this is the gigue from Bach Cello Suite No. 3 (track 18 on disc one of this album!).  I had this on VHS and watched it like a million times.  This video is my upload.

 

8Tracks Review: ‘Be the Cowboy’ by Mitski

Be the Cowboy by Mitski
Dead Oceans, 2018

I haven’t told anyone

Mitzki (Miyawaki)’s new album dropped August 17 and I planned to review it last week, but you know.  Crazy Rich Asians.  This one got a ton of advance buzz, partly because of a couple of advance singles but also because it feels like it’s time for everyone who doesn’t know Mitski to get on.

That pretty friend is finally yours

    1. Geyser (2:23)
    2. Why Didn’t You Stop Me? (2:21)
    3. Old Friend (1:52)
    4. A Pearl (2:36)
    5. Lonesome Love (1:50)
    6. Remember My Name (2:15)
    7. Me and My Husband (2:17)
    8. Come into the Water (1:32)
    9. Nobody (3:13)
    10. Pink in the Night (2:16)
    11. A Horse Named Cold Air (2:03)
    12. Washing Machine Heart (2:08)
    13. Blue Light (1:43)
    14. Two Slow Dancers (3:59)

Someone who loves me now

The songs are short: at 3:59, “Two Slow Dancers” is the longest by far, and most songs stay around the two-minute mark.  This makes the album move quickly, almost frantically, yet they’re varied enough that each song sticks out in a way I wouldn’t have predicted.  I want to drive around the entire island of Oahu with the top down and this album on repeat.

Be the Cowboy‘s sound is indie as heck.  It’s going to remind you a bit of the Duke Spirit, a bit of the Raveonettes, and in the less rocking songs, a lot of Zooey Deschanel in She & Him.  There’s a lot of great retro rock organ with distant, singing in a shower, reverberating vocal production with a lot of muted drumming on what sounds sometimes like a three-piece kit.

I imagine many will disagree with me, but Mitski’s at her best when she’s rocking out.  “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” and “A Pearl” stand out this way.

Although it’s probably not for everyone, this is some good stuff, and it would be a shame to let it fly under the radar, which it could easily do.

I’ll take anything you want to give me

Best song: “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Second-best song: “Remember My Name”
Fourteenth-best song: “Two Slow Dancers”
Best moment: Oh man, I love the electric guitar on “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?” which has a really cool downward bend that sounds like a spaceship giving up.  This is tied with the sigh Mitski opens “Me and My Husband” with.
Best lyric: It seems like too easy a choice, but I keep going back to “Nobody butters me up like you / and nobody f*cks me like me,” in “Lonesome Love,” one of the Zooey-sounding songs.  The repeated “Why am I lonely for lonesome love?” to end the song may be in a twelve-way tie for second.
Song to make you text your ex (don’t do it!):  “Why Didn’t You Stop Me?”
Song to make you write song lyrics out of something you put in your Xanga when you were 16 (do it!):  “Lonesome Love.”

Rating: 8/10

 

The city where you’re from

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Film Review: ‘Searching’ (No Spoilers)

So as part of “Asian August,” I (you can read my review of “Crazy Rich Asians here”) got to see Searching as part of a #goldopen effort to promote the film, which opened this past weekend (but first debuted at Sundance) in a very limited release – nine theaters (and opens nationally Friday, August 31st) actually starring John Cho (#starringJohnCho). From the film’s website:

After David Kim (John Cho)’s 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a local investigation is opened and a detective is assigned to the case. But 37 hours later and without a single lead, David decides to search the one place no one has looked yet, where all secrets are kept today: his daughter’s laptop. In a hyper-modern thriller told via the technology devices we use every day to communicate, David must trace is daughter’s digital footprints before she disappears forever.

Continue reading “Film Review: ‘Searching’ (No Spoilers)”

8Books Review: “The Chinese Must Go” by Beth Lew-Williams

Beth Lew-Williams’s new history, The Chinese Must Go: Violence, Exclusion, and the Making of the Alien in America, is a thorough examination of anti-Chinese violence in the West in the 1880s and its relation to U.S. immigration policy.

If the history of American immigration policy, and particularly Chinese exclusion, is new to you, this might not be the best place to start. But for those who are, Lew-Williams adds nuance to our understanding of 1882 and 1888 Chinese exclusion laws and how they shaped and shaped in turn violent expulsions of Chinese in places like Wyoming and Washington. The latter chapters and epilogue delve into how Chinese immigration policy shaped the American conception of aliens as a category.

It’s a dense, yet highly informative read and is notable for drawing the connections between the history of Chinese exclusion and racial violence, and the larger trajectory of citizenship and rights.

8Tracks Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)

Crazy Rich Asians (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack)
WaterTower Music, 2018

(no movie spoilers)

Look how they shine for you

Almost nobody discusses Crazy Rich Asians (the film) without mentioning the movie’s soundtrack, which is pretty cool, because how often does this happen anymore?  Soundtrack albums used to be huge marketing tools for films, but unless the film is a musical, nowadays you seldom hear people talk about soundtracks.  I suspect the persistent conversation means the soundtrack in CRA is especially effective. Its first few spins took me immediately to specific places they appear in the movie, which may also be a sign of its effectiveness.

I wrote a song for you

  1. Waiting for Your Return (Jasmine Chen) (2:58)
  2. Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K) (3:12)
  3. Wo Yao Ni De Ai (I Want Your Love — I Want You  to Be My Baby) (Grace Chang) (2:41)
  4. My New Swag (VaVa featuring Ty and Nina Wang) (4:05)
  5. Give Me a Kiss (Jasmine Chen) (3:01)
  6. Ren Sheng Jiu Shi Xi (Yao Lee) (3:02)
  7. Ni Dong Bu Dong (Do You Understand) (Lilian Chen) (2:32)
  8. Wo Yao Fei Shang Qing Tian (Grace Chang) (3:17)
  9. Material Girl (200 Du) (4:25)
  10. Can’t Help Falling in Love (Kina Grannis) (3:21)
  11. Wo Yao Ne De Ai (I Want Y our Love — I Want You to Be My Baby (Jasmine Chen) (2:04)
  12. Yellow (Katherine Ho) (4:08)
  13. Vote (Miguel) (3:22)
  14. Money (That’s What I Want) (Cheryl K featuring Awkwafina) (3:12)

Turn into something beautiful

I’m pretty sensitive to the way music is used in film, and I dislike most soundtracks and most movie scores.  This one impressed me beginning with the opening swing of “Waiting for Your Return,” then it surprised me with interesting Chinese-language covers of familiar songs.  I didn’t know anything about the soundtrack before going in, so covers of “Material Girl,” and “Yellow” caught me off guard and really work with the moods of their scenes and the context of the film’s plot.

I had one moment where the song choice took me out of the movie for about nine seconds, when I recognized Kina Grannis’s cover of “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” and couldn’t understand how it existed in the film right when it did, but then it all made sense.  You’ll see what I mean either when you see the movie or when you look at the acting credits.

That’s really about the movie, not about this album, and this is what I’m talking about. Listening to the soundtrack is remembering the movie, which perhaps makes it a great soundtrack, but I wonder if it makes it not as good an album. Because Crazy Rich Asians is a good movie, I’m going to dismiss this possibility; yet if it had been a terrible movie, and if the soundtrack album kept reminding you of scenes in this terrible movie, would it be a terrible soundtrack, no matter how good the songs?

A moot consideration in this case.

It seems a sequel film is in the works, and I have to say I’m here for it and really interested in what’ll be on the soundtrack.

Your skin and bones

Best song: Yeah, I’m going with the crowd on this.  “Yellow.”
Second best song: The closing credits version of “Money,” the one with Awkwafina’s raps.
Surprise: “Vote” by Miguel. It’s the first interesting thing I’ve ever heard from him. I really like this.
Song to make you want to call your mom (do it!): “Yellow.”
Song to make you want to text your ex (don’t do it!): “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
Song to make you go “Wha?”: “Material Girl.”

And all the things you do

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also this video of Katherine Ho singing her “PB&J”

8Tracks Review: ‘Expectations’ by Hayley Kiyoko

Expectations by Hayley Kiyoko
Atlantic Records, 2018

Breathe her in

Hayley Kiyoko’s debut album dropped March 30.  I’ve been vaguely aware of her for a long time, knew she was an actress but haven’t seen her work, knew she was a singer but haven’t heard her music.  It’s mostly because my tastes just don’t lean this way, so please keep this in mind here.

She said on Facebook:

MY DEBUT ALBUM. OUT NOW EVERYWHERE.
Promise me you will listen to it in order, from beginning to end, like it was intended. I set the setting and tone, but this is your personal journey to take what you will.
BUY IT. DOWNLOAD IT. STREAM IT. SHARE IT. I couldn’t be prouder of this album….BLAST THAT BABY 😭😭😭😭😭😭💿💿💿💿💿💿💿

If you’re ’round come get it

  1. Expectations (Overture) (1:52)
  2. Feelings (3:36)
  3. What I Need (featuring Kehlani) (3:39)
  4. Sleepover (3:53)
  5. Mercy / Gatekeeper (5:44)
  6. Under the Blue / Take Me In (5:37)
  7. Curious (3:03)
  8. xx (:51)
  9. Wanna Be Missed (3:15)
  10. He’ll Never Love You (HNLY) (3:51)
  11. Palm Dreams (5:14)
  12. Molecules (4:10)
  13. Let It Be (3:41)

Never felt nothing like that

I gave Expectations a few spins because her Wikipedia article tags her as dream pop and synth pop, and I do enjoy some pretty dream pop.  The album’s opening got me excited: “Expectations (Overture)” does have a nice dream-poppy vibe.  However, it becomes clear very quickly that this is a much dancier album, heavily synth pop with a hundred dance and R&B intentions.  Honestly, it’s the same music I mostly steer clear of, not because it isn’t any good but because it doesn’t engage me.

I wanted to be engaged because Hayley makes it clear that this is a very personal album, and a flight through the lyrics attests to it.  I appreciate that a gay songwriter is singing intimately about the longing these personae feel for the the women they’re missing.  I just can’t connect to the music, and I really tried.

Every style can’t be for every listener, and this style’s not for me.  I share my thoughts here because I suspect that the album is rather well done for its format.  The production is very clean, almost shimmery in its presentation, and Hayley does have a pretty voice.  The lyrics are interesting (I especially like “Sleepover,” about a woman who can’t be with the person she desires, so she’s left with only her imagining of this person).  The beats feel standard at best, which might be okay with me if they just didn’t dominate the entire sound.

If your pop sensibilities lean toward good club vibes and heavy beats, you may find this an outstanding album.  My barbaric ears find it to be very, very long.  I give it a one-point bump for interesting lyrics, but that still puts it around 5/10 for me: not bad but not good.

Got all these hearts in line

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Film Review: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ (No Spoilers)

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that the movie Crazy Rich Asians is coming out today, August 15th, nationally. I was able to see a pre-screening a week early that the filmmakers promoted on the auspicious lucky date of 8/8/2018.


If you have been living under a rock, Crazy Rich Asians is one of the most “anticipated films of the summer” according to USA Today (based on the 2013 international bestselling book by Kevin Kwan). The first major Hollywood film in 25 years with an all-Asian cast that isn’t a period piece—more than two decades removed from the last big-budget movie of the same ilk, The Joy Luck Club.

The story follows New Yorker Rachel Chu as she accompanies her longtime boyfriend, Nick Young, 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.

Crazy Rich Asians is very much in the genre of the romantic comedy (“rom-com”) except that there are Asians and Asian Americans in all of the major and minor roles, speaking mostly English. This, as I and many others have noted, is a big deal:

As it turns out, there were questions about casting even before the book hit stores. Mr. Kwan said a producer who wanted to option the book had suggested that he make Rachel white. Mr. Kwan refused.

“It didn’t surprise me,” said Constance Wu, the Chinese-American actress who ultimately secured the role and who has been a vocal critic of Hollywood whitewashing. “I’m just glad that Kevin stuck to his guns. It takes a lot of courage to say no to something, especially if you’re scared that everything might slip away if you don’t say yes.”

There’s been a big movement called #GoldOpen (which I am a part of, organizing a theater buyout for the Cornell Asian Alumni Association, other Ivy League Asian American alumni associations, and the Duke Alumni Association):

Digital media entrepreneur Bing Chen has seized on director Jon Chu’s comment that “Crazy Rich Asians is more than just a movie, it’s a movement” and is promoting the movie on social media with the #GoldOpen hashtag in the hopes of drawing a record box office.

So there are high expectations for the film, and I, like many, was worried that the movie would not live up to the hype. But it does, at least for me—the themes of the romantic comedy genre are pretty universal, even if the characters are Asian and Asian American and the film is set in Singapore and many of the characters are in the 1 percent, the movie should have a broad appeal. As Wikipedia defines a romantic comedy:

In a typical romantic comedy the two lovers tend to be young, likeable, and apparently meant for each other, yet they are kept apart by some complicating circumstance (e.g., class differences, parental interference; a previous girlfriend or boyfriend) until, surmounting all obstacles, they are finally reunited.

And Crazy Rich Asians fits the mold very well, though I wouldn’t say that the movie is completely formulaic. If you like romantic comedies like Pretty Woman, Notting Hill, or Love Actually, I’m pretty sure you’ll like Crazy Rich Asians, but it’s not as original as, say, Groundhog Day, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, or The Princess Bride.

I have to say I knew I was going to like the film when in an early scene, Nick tries to convince Rachel to visit Singapore, and I heard the word “ahma” (grandmother). Just the word “ahma” was an “aha” moment, making me think, “Wow, I think that is the first time I’ve ever heard that word in an American movie.”

Constance Wu as Rachel and Henry Golding as Nick are great together, and Golding makes a great leading man—quite handsome and physically fit, definitely no Long Duk Dong. Michelle Yeoh is excellent as Nick’s mom Eleanor and the family matriarch, playing reserved and stern for maximum intimidation, almost in a The Devil Wears Prada Meryl Streep/Miranda Priestly kind of way.

But the breakout star and comedic relief is actress and rapper Awkwafina who plays Peik Lin, Rachel’s close friend from college. As a Duke MBA, I’m a big fan of Ken Jeong (Duke ’90)—and although he doesn’t have a huge part, he plays Peik Lin’s father, and he’s funny (as expected) when he’s on screen. Nico Santos also does a terrific job as Oliver T’sien, Nick’s gay, sassy, and well-styled second cousin.

I was captivated by the stunning and exquisitely poised Gemma Chan, who plays Astrid Teo, Nick’s cousin. Chan is absolutely gorgeous in this film and I really liked her portrayal of her character (which, I read in one tweet, was quite faithful to her character described in the book). I was aware of Chan before, since I had seen her in the AMC television series Humans, where she played an anthropomorphic robot (called “synths” in the series).

Cast of Crazy Rich Asians

There are also a host of other actors and actresses I could go on about, but this is supposed to be a mini-review.

Overall, the movie is very entertaining and very funny. You get to see what the 1 percent in Singapore and Asia live like (maybe somewhat exaggerated). The movie is gorgeously shot. Lots of food and fashion porn, and as one review put it, affluence porn.

What Lord of the Rings did for New Zealand, Crazy Rich Asians might do for Singapore. I’ve visited Singapore twice, and in the movie, Singapore never looked better (though the last time I visited was in January 1999).

There are the twists and turns like in any romantic comedy, but the audience hopes and usually gets the happy ending it wants. I read The Joy Luck Club before seeing the movie over 25 years ago, but I have not read Crazy Rich Asians. I kind of want to now, to learn a little bit more about the characters and their backgrounds. With so many characters, it’s hard to have all the characters developed within a time span of two hours. Additionally, author Kevin Kwan followed up his bestseller with two more00—China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems.

Before the movie started, I read tweets about #crazyrichasians to see what the reaction to the movie was—some wrote that they laughed and cried, and I thought that maybe the crying was a bit melodramatic. But to be honest, I did tear up a little (I’m kind of a closet romantic—then again, I also tear up whenever I see the end of Armageddon with this line, “Colonel Willie Sharp, United States Air Force, ma’am. Requesting permission to shake the hand of the daughter of the bravest man I’ve ever met.”)

Also, for those who understand at least a little Mandarin (like myself), there are some Mandarin songs used in the movie in the background with lyrics like “我要你的愛” (I want your love) and a Chinese version of Madonna’s “Material Girl” by Sally Yeh. And I absolutely LOVED Katherine Ho’s Chinese rendition of the Coldplay hit, “Yellow,” which was perfect to set the tone in a certain scene in the movie. Additionally, in English, the rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by Kina Grannis is terrific.

For some reason, these songs in Chinese really reinforced that Crazy Rich Asians is a special film. Although I was born and raised in the United States, as a Taiwanese American, I did go to Chinese school and did speak a little Mandarin with my parents. Most Asian Americans (due to a lot of immigration in the past 20 to 30 years), were born overseas, and still have a very strong connection to Asia. However, from reading public tweets and YouTube review comments, a lot of non-Chinese speaking people seem to like the soundtrack as well. There’s a certain familiarity yet uniqueness with these songs that were a very thoughtful  magical touch by director Jon M. Chu.

Speaking of whom, I haven’t seen any of Chu’s previous movies, which included the Step Up series of movies, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation. In fact, I’m not even sure I had really heard of Chu, and was really surprised to learn that he grew up in Los Altos Hills, not too far from where I live. But what was a complete shock to me was to learn that Chu is the son of owner and chef of popular Chinese restaurants in Silicon Valley (and among the oldest—opened in 1970) in Los Altos, Chef Chu’s. This restaurant is literally like a 10-to-15 minute walk from where I live.

As of this writing, Crazy Rich Asians is 100% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes (with 28 reviews). Go out and see this movie. You should like—if not love—it! I’ll be sure to see this movie a few times again. Opens nationally today, Wednesday, August 15.

Images (except the one of me!) courtesy of Warner Brothers.