Double Review: Crazy Rich Asians (book + film)

If you'd prefer to listen or watch this review, choose the audio track or video below, or read on for the text!

How did I discover this book/film?

I saw a trailer for the Crazy Rich Asians film when I was seeing another movie, and then the book turned up in my audible feed, so I decided to read [or rather listen] to it first.

The review!

I'm a huge fan of romantic comedies – there's such a pleasure in those stories when they're done well. But they can be a bit samey – sometimes that's part of the pleasure, and sometimes it becomes tired. One of the great things about Crazy Rich Asians is that it sits broadly in romantic comedy, but is very different from other stories – the characters, the setting, it's all very much not Jenifer Aniston/Lopez. To be honest, I found the book a very slow start. Lots of characters to meet, and a lot of the opulent "world" to be built before the story really feels like it gets going. I wonder if I had been reading a hard copy if I would have stuck with it.

In audiobook, however, I pushed past that start, and the page traction picks up. It's very much a story about the setting – that over-the-top opulence is what makes it work, though there's enough story to be satisfying.

When I saw the movie, I was expecting a huge on-screen realisation of that opulent setting, and to be honest I was a little disappointed with how restrained it was compared to the book. The other dissatisfaction is that, while I think it's a good adaptation, the nuances and complexities of the secondary characters and subplots is completely missing.

The ending, particularly of Astrid's story and Rachel's family past, is very Hollywoodised and underdone in an unsatisfying way. It was odd to watch that, when the early scenes of the movie were straight takes from the book, even the bible study scene which I always thought stood out as not matching the rest of the book. I read somewhere that it was one of the originating scenes for the story, and it read that way – something that was a legacy and didn't quite belong. So double odd that the movie went with it anyway, but then departed so drastically from the book in all the wrap-up.

However, it's enjoyable to watch a rom-com without the usual suspects in the cast, and despite the other-worldly wealth, it does a good job of conveying a universality of romantic difficulties common to everyone. Plus it has some very funny moments!

It's rare for me to read a book so close to seeing the movie (the last time was Lord of the Rings), and it does create a strange story dissonance in my mind where it's hard to separate the two versions of the story, which might be one reason I found the film more unsatisfying. One thing is for sure though – I've never wanted to go eat in a Singapore food market more in my life.

Book – 4 couture dresses out of 5
Film – 3 mega-diamonds out of 5

Interested? Watch the trailer ...