Kinky Boots Musical review

KINKY BOOTS

5 – 14 October
Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands, Singapore

You can’t understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in someone’s shoes – or, as it were, their patent leather stiletto boots. Kinky Boots, the musical about how changing your mind can change the world, has arrived in Singapore, and audiences are getting ready to say “yeah!”

Kinky Boots is based on the 2005 film starring Chiwetel Ejiofor and Joel Edgerton, which was in turn loosely inspired by the true story of the W.J. Brooks Shoe Company in Northamptonshire. 80s rock icon Cyndi Lauper wrote the music and lyrics, her first time composing a musical, with Harvey Fierstein supplying the book.

After tryouts in Chicago in 2012, the show debuted on Broadway the next year and proceeded to win big at the Tony Awards, clinching prizes including Best Musical and Best Original Score. The Broadway and West End productions are still running. This production is the U.S. national touring company, who have been travelling around the states since September 2017, and who visited three cities in China in July 2018 before the Singapore, uh, leg of their tour.

The show is mostly set at the Price and Son shoe factory in Northampton. Charlie Price (Lance Bordelon) has just inherited the business from his father, and finds himself at a crossroads, on the brink of having to shut down the factory and fire workers he’s known all his life. A chance encounter with the fabulous drag queen Lola (Jos N. Banks) sets Charlie on a new course. Charlie learns that the boots on Lola’s heels keep snapping off, because she is wearing shoes not designed to support the weight of a man.

With a push from factory worker Lauren (Sydney Patrick), who is nursing a crush on Charlie even though he’s engaged to Nicola (Hayley Lampart), Charlie decides that from here on out, Price and Son will be serving a ‘niche market’. Some of the workers, especially the boorish Don (Adam Du Plessis), baulk at Lola and her troupe of drag queens, known as ‘the Angels’. The unlikely partners of Charlie and Lola realise that what they have in common is stronger than what they don’t and set about designing and manufacturing a range of boots to showcase at the Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

Kinky Boots has often been described as a feel-good musical, and it fits that description in the best way. Some shows that strive to be life-affirming and inspiring can come off as schmaltzy or hollow, but Kinky Boots does have something to say, and is irrepressibly joyous as it shouts its message of acceptance from the rooftops. The show touches on gender roles and identity features a clash of cultures between more conservative working-class people and the LGBT+ community.

In its plot and characters, the adaptation is very faithful to the film. While it’s flashy and energetic, Kinky Boots is also a gentle show, and serves as a great entry-level experience for audiences who might not understand or haven’t gotten into drag culture. It’s certainly less intimidating than going to a full-on drag club for the first time might be, and as such is a great gateway. There has been some debate about the mainstreaming of drag, which was once something only a marginalised community partook in, but the appreciation and enjoyment of the art form can go a long way in fostering understanding between people who seem outwardly different.

Some of the show’s songs are disco-tinged numbers that one could picture Lauper herself performing, and several are designed to get everyone in the audience tapping their toes and clapping along. There’s an infectiousness to the Act One closer “Everybody Say Yeah”, and to the rousing finale “Just Be”. However, there are also more traditional Broadway show-stoppers in which the characters wear their hearts on their sleeves and belt out their feelings, like “Not My Father’s Son”, “Hold Me in Your Heart” and “Soul of a Man”.

The setting of a shoe factory might seem drab, but there’s a cleverness to David Rockwell’s scenic design which sprinkles just a bit of magic dust on a worn-in working class environment. Subtle changes in Kenneth Posner’s lighting design set the mood, and at one point, the conveyor belt splits apart into a multi-section treadmill that the performers dance and do acrobatics on. The costumes by Gregg Barnes are stars in their own right; our audience cheered and clapped each time Lola or the Angels strutted onstage in a new get-up.

Bordelon embodies the ‘straight man’ (in every sense) archetype to a tee, playing a character who is hapless but a good distance from being a bumbling idiot. Just like every performer in the show, Bordelon moves well, though he only really gets to showcase this in the very last number. He hits all the high notes but did sound a little bit nasally at our performance, perhaps as the result of a cold.

Banks eats the Lola role up with great aplomb. Just like one must while dancing in those heels, he finds the ideal balance, such that Lola is always the centre of attention but never obnoxiously so. Every gesture, step, flip of the hair that Lola does, it all informs her character and helps the audience learn who she is. During the backstage tour, we were told that on this production, Banks and all the actors playing the Angels do their own makeup. Lola’s duet with Charlie, “Not My Father’s Son”, is easily the show’s most emotional moment, with her soaring power ballad “Hold Me in Your Heart” coming in a close second.

The Angels, played by Brandon Alberto, Jordan Archibald, Eric Stanton Betts, Derek Brazeau, Ernest Terrelle Williams and Philip Stock, pull off impressive acrobatics and show off some spectacularly toned abs and thighs.

The petite Patrick proves quite the firecracker, throwing every fibre of her being into “The History of Wrong Guys”, which is one of the show’s funniest numbers. The Lauren character does fall a little too neatly into the ‘manic pixie dream girl’ archetype, but Patrick has fun with it, over-the-top accent and all.

The other featured female role is Charlie’s demanding fiancé Nicola, who is the nominal antagonist. Some might say that the show, as the movie did before it, conflates a woman being ambitious with being pushy, but couples arguing over one party’s business decisions is something that happens often in real life.

Kinky Boots is a crowd-pleaser that is anything but pedestrian. Even though it does follow certain templates used by other musicals before, including the English working-class settings that inspired Billy Elliot and The Full Monty, Kinky Boots has a loveable personality all its own. Speed-strut, don’t walk, to the Sands Theatre now.

Jedd Jong

Photos: Sébastien Tessier/Kinky Boots

Now playing at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Singapore. Tickets start from $65 (excluding $4 booking fee). Please visit the Marina Bay Sands site for tickets and more information.

There is a 16 an above advisory (some mature content)

Advertisements

Strut Your Stuff: Kinky Boots musical press call

STRUT YOUR STUFF

The cast and creatives of Kinky Boots discuss the award-winning musical, making its way to Singapore for the first time

By Jedd Jong

From 5 – 14 October 2018, the stage of the Sands Theatre at Marina Bay Sands Theatre will be transformed into the assembly line of the Price and Son Shoe Factory. This is the main setting of the musical Kinky Boots, adapted from the 2005 film of the same name.  The musical was first staged in Chicago in 2012 and went on to be a smash hit on Broadway and the West End, winning awards including Best Musical and Best Original Score Tony Awards. The show boasts music and lyrics by rock star Cyndi Lauper and a book by Harvey Fierstein.

Kinky Boots is set in Northampton, England, where Charlie Price has just inherited a shoe factory from his father. Without any ongoing contracts, the factory is about to be shut down, and Charlie finds himself at an impasse. A chance encounter with the flamboyant, assertive drag queen Lola changes both their lives. Charlie learns that the heels on Lola’s boots keep snapping, because the boots Lola wears weren’t designed to withstand a man’s weight. Charlie decides to make boots for Lola and her troupe of drag performers, changing the factory’s output from men’s dress shoes to “two-and-a-half feet of irresistible, tubular sex”. Charlie and Lola form an unconventional partnership, with the goal to debut a collection of boots at the prestigious Milan International Shoe Exhibition.

This production has gone to U.S. states including Philadelphia, Arizona, Colorado, California and Vermont since September 2017. From June to August, the production then toured China, with stops in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Beijing. After its Singapore stint, the tour will return to the U.S., visiting states including Kentucky, Alabama, Florida, Indiana and Tennessee.

inSing spoke to members of the cast and crew about their experience being on the road with Kinky Boots. Lance Bordelon stars as Charlie, but was not available to speak to the media at the press call. As the actor playing Lola, Jos N. Banks has most of the spotlight on him. Banks described the show as being “about love and acceptance” and said that’s why it’s been received so well.

Most of Lola’s musical numbers, especially her introductory song Land of Lola, are as bold and flashy as the drag queen herself. However, Banks’ favourite moment in the show is the song Not My Father’s Son, which showcases Lola at her most vulnerable, recalling the expectations placed on her growing up by her father. “It’s the first time in the show that the audience really gets to connect with Lola because it’s pared down,” Banks said, adding “you don’t see the big wig and costumes, you see Lola as a person, and that’s the moment you instantly connect with the audience.” The song starts off with just the piano and Banks’ voice. “There’s something very beautiful and I think there’s something very remarkable in the silence of it all,” he concluded.

Company manager Andrew Terlizzi called the show “a story that reaches everybody.” On the effect the show has had on audiences, he said “Chinese audiences who have never done drag performances themselves were inspired to come in full drag to see the show.” Terlizzi said the show had “opened [audiences’] eyes that they can be who they are”.

Wardrobe supervisor Michael Lavin oversees the show’s costumes, including those all-important boots. “We have a lot of very specific items that have to be maintained to very specific directions,” Lavin noted, adding that finding local suppliers and replacement parts when the show is on tour can be a challenge.

Dancing in said boots can seem like a formidable feat, but the performers in Kinky Boots make it look easy. “After a couple of weeks, you get used to it,” Philip Stock, who plays one of Lola’s Angels, told us. “There’s a different centre of gravity, you have to engage your core in a way you wouldn’t normally, but once you figure all that out, it’s normal,” he remarked.

Stock’s fellow Angel, Derek Brazeau, reiterated the show’s message: “just be who you want to be.” “All of us having differences is what makes us human. We’re not perfect, and I think that’s what makes us beautiful,” Brazeau said.

We spoke to the musical’s leading ladies Sydney Patrick and Hayley Lampart, who play Lauren and Nicola respectively. Lauren is a factory worker at Price and Son who finds herself falling for Charlie, but there’s a complication: Charlie’s already engaged to Nicola, who can be demanding and has grown frustrated with Charlie’s mission to make boots for drag queens.

Patrick cited Everybody Say Yeah, the closing number of Act One, as her favourite part of the show. “That’s when we decide as a factory that we’re gonna go through with the plan,” Patrick said, describing the number as “just a party onstage and everyone’s dancing on the factory pieces”. The conveyor belt on the factory floor splits apart, forming individual treadmills that the factory workers dance on. “It’s scary in the beginning when you’re learning it,” Patrick said of dancing on the treadmill. “We had a gymnastics day, when everyone was learning how to flip and stuff. Now, it’s normal. It’s just fun as this point.”

Patrick recalled how her mother introduced her to the film when Patrick was a teenager. my Mum said ‘I saw this cool independent British film’ – my Mum’s all into independent films. She sat me down and made me watch it with her. It’s so amazing, and many years later, I was like ‘there’s this musical called Kinky Boots’ and she said ‘that’s the movie I showed you!’” She told us that her parents were excited and proud to see her join the cast of the show, and would travel to watch the show as it went to different locales.

Lampart recalled watching the original Broadway production while she was in college in New York City. “I went out and saw it right away because it was such a hit immediately,” she said. “Billy Porter and Stark [Sands], it was the dream cast. Annaleigh Ashford, they were so good, Lena Hall.  When I saw it, I remember being like ‘oh my god, this would be so cool to be in,’ and it’s so crazy that it happened! Here I am, in Singapore.”

Both Patrick and Lampart have performed on cruise lines: Patrick on Disney Cruises and Lampart on Norwegian Cruise Lines. Patrick described herself as a “travel addict” and enjoyed visiting the different ports of call, but there are challenges to working on a cruise ship too. They touched on the difficulty of keeping in contact with the outside world and that the nature of a cruise is that time zones keep getting crossed.

“It’s such a fast-paced life and I really like that, I think I’m very adaptable because of that,” Lampart said of working as an entertainer on a cruise ship.

The Lauren character’s solo number is a wistful lament called The History of Wrong Guys, in which she reflects on her dating past and realises she’s falling for Charlie. When asked to offer romantic advice to those who seem to keep ending up with wrong guys (and/or gals), Patrick offered “If you are authentically you, you’ll attract someone who loves you, so you don’t have to try, you don’t have to try and prove anything to anyone. I think that’s probably the best lesson to do when you’re looking for your Mr or Mrs Right”.

The life of a touring theatre performer can be an arduous one, involving eight performances a week, moving from city to city, and long periods spent away from home. However, it is one that Patrick and Lampart find rewarding.

“I think we live in a world that can be very disconnected and very impersonal because of technology, texting and social media,” Patrick said. “Hopefully people who come to see theatre witness raw emotion that they can connect with and can think ‘I’m not alone’ or ‘I’ve had that experience before’ and they can open their hearts and minds to other people’s stories.”

Lampart remarked that shows like Kinky Boots “don’t come often,” and that the show’s directors told the cast as much. “They said this show makes such an impact on people and when you walk offstage every night after the finale, you just feel the feeling of maybe, hopefully changing someone’s perspective. It’s such an amazing feeling,” she enthused.

Tickets start at $65 (not including $4 booking fee) for D Reserve Seats. Tickets are available here.

Venom review

VENOM

Director : Ruben Fleischer
Cast : Tom Hardy, Michelle Williams, Riz Ahmed, Reid Scott, Jenny Slate, Scott Haze
Genre : Comics/Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 112 mins
Opens : 4 October 2018
Rating : PG13

Tom Hardy is his own worst enemy and maybe also his own best friend in this Marvel Comics adaptation. Hardy plays Eddie Brock, a journalist engaged to successful lawyer Anne Weying (Michelle Williams). Brock has trained his sights on Carlton Drake (Riz Ahmed), an industrialist and inventor who has privately funded space exploration missions. As the head of the Life Foundation, Drake portrays himself as a benevolent force for good, but Brock suspects that Drake is secretly conducting unethical, illegal activities which have resulted in civilian deaths.

A Life Foundation spacecraft crashes on earth, and its cargo, an alien life form, escapes. This is a symbiote, which needs to bond to a host to survive. When Dr Dora Skirth (Jenny Slate), a scientist working for the Life Foundation, approaches Brock as a whistle-blower, Brock investigates and another symbiote bonds to him. This is the entity known as Venom, which manifests as a voice in Brock’s head and takes over his body, giving him enhanced strength and healing and causes him to emanate tendrils. Brock must make sense of this new unwelcome guest while uncovering the extent of Drake’s misdeeds, eventually learning to coexist with Venom and use his newfound abilities to his advantage.

There have been multiple attempts at a Venom movie, including one in the late 90s that was reportedly slated to star Dolph Lundgren, and another attempt that would have taken place within the continuity of the Amazing Spider-Man movies. Then of course there was the iteration played by Topher Grace in Spider-Man 3, which left many fans unsatisfied.

Venom was created by Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie, and is arguably Spider-Man’s best-known, most visually striking nemesis. The character’s origin directly involves Spider-Man – in the comics, the symbiote is a discarded alien suit worn by the web-slinging hero. As such, a Venom movie that is completely removed from Spider-Man feels like a tricky prospect. This reviewer had to remind himself that at least the symbiote’s host is still called “Eddie Brock”, unlike the Catwoman movie which starred a character named Patience Phillips, who was nothing like the Catwoman of the comics, Selina Kyle.

Venom-symbiote-Tom-Hardy-1

The film’s somewhat tormented production process has led to an odd beast. Venom is tonally weird. One would be forgiven for expecting a dark, disturbing movie – after all, the title character is a slimy alien parasite with pointy teeth and a long, icky tongue. However, what Venom most resembles is a buddy comedy. The symbiote seems characterised as the friend who’s a bad influence, pushing Eddie to do things he would rather not do. The symbiote is an obvious metaphor for the darkness deep within a person being brought to the surface, so it is somewhat baffling that the film does practically nothing with this concept.

The action sequences are moderately entertaining but not especially memorable. There’s a motorcycle chase and a sequence in which Venom takes on an entire SWAT team in a smoke-filled apartment building lobby, but any time the full-on creature takes over the action, things feel distinctly synthetic. The climactic fight is a battle between one thing made of CGI and another thing made of CGI, set against a mostly CGI backdrop.

Then, there is the PG-13 rating. A movie doesn’t have to be R-rated to be good, it doesn’t even have to be R-rated to be effectively disturbing. However, this is a movie in which the title character bites people’s heads off and impales his enemies through the torso. It’s a bit difficult to sell the viciousness when it must happen off-screen or obscured while something else is going on. That said, this movie could’ve been R-rated and still turned out limp.

Hardy is perfectly watchable in the role and tries to make something interesting out of the material. He ends up performing quite a bit of physical comedy, which seems out of place, but which he commits to. There is the sense that Hardy could have brought so much more to the table had the script allowed him to dig into the inherently unsettling nature of the bond between the Venom symbiote and its human host, but it seems the film is more interested on back-and-forth banter.

Michelle Williams is wasted as a character who isn’t too much more than the designated girlfriend, even though there is a nice nod to her character in the comics. Riz Ahmed plays a ruthless Elon Musk-type, who is at once a cartoony villain while also bland and barely menacing. Jenny Slate’s mousey scientist who might just be the one to bring the villain down seems like she might be interesting, but similarly gets little to do. While some comic book movies suffer from far too many characters, there are almost too few interesting characters at all in Venom.

The casual viewer might find Venom a passable diversion, but anyone who is particularly attached to the comics will be sorely dissatisfied. The film attempts to translate the character’s sarcasm to the screen, but lacks the acid-drenched wickedness which must accompany said sarcasm. The result is a relatively safe movie about a character who should always feel at least a little dangerous. Director Ruben Fleischer’s best film remains Zombieland, so perhaps comedy is where he should focus his efforts. There is a goofiness to Venom that is strongly reminiscent of comic book movies made when the filmmakers making them hadn’t fully figured things out yet: a bit of Spawn here, a bit of the 2002 Hulk movie there.

Stick around for a mid-credits tag which hints as sequel – as mediocre as this outing is, we’d be darned if we didn’t want to see a sequel make good on what this scene promises. There’s also a sneak peek at a forthcoming movie at the very end of the credits.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

 

A Star Is Born (2018) review

A STAR IS BORN

Director : Bradley Cooper
Cast : Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, Sam Elliott, Andrew Dice Clay, Dave Chappelle, Anthony Ramos, Rafi Gavron, Greg Grunberg, Michael Hanley
Genre : Drama/Romance/Musical
Run Time : 135 mins
Opens : 4 October 2018
Rating : M18

It’s a tale of love, loss and rock and roll: A familiar story is given a new lease of life by star/director Bradley Cooper and his leading lady Lady Gaga in this musical romantic drama.

Cooper plays hard-drinking rock star Jackson Maine, whose years on the road and life of excess have left him numb. Jackson finds new meaning in life when he chances upon Ally (Lady Gaga), a young singer performing at a dive bar. Jackson decides to take Ally under his wing and invites her onstage to sing a song she wrote with him at his concert. Jackson and Ally fall madly in love, but Jackson’s demons haunt their relationship, as prominent producer and Ally’s new manager Rez (Rafi Gavron) tussles with Jackson for control of the rising talent’s career.

A Star is Born is the third remake of the 1937 film starring Janet Gaynor and Fredric March. The film was subsequently remade in 1954 with Judy Garland and James Mason, and in 1976 with Barbra Streisand and Kris Kristofferson. A third remake of the classic film has been in the works for a while, with actors including Christian Bale, Tom Cruise, Will Smith and Leonardo DiCaprio variously linked to the project. Clint Eastwood was going to make the film with Beyoncé. Considering the previous well-known iterations of the story and the somewhat bumpy production process, one would be forgiven for fearing a messy result.

Those fears are firmly assuaged with a film that has a linear, uncomplicated plot, but is inhabited by characters who feel like real people and whom audiences will care about. Praise has been heaped onto both Cooper and Gaga, who prove deserving of said praise. This does not feel like the work of a first-time filmmaker, and Cooper directs with a clear-eyed confidence. The cinematography by Matthew Libatique, oft-collaborator of Darren Aronofsky, contributes to the balance of the dreamlike and gritty, real atmospheres which entwine hypnotically.

This a movie about music, so it lives or dies by the soundtrack. Thankfully, the songs are great and do help in moving the story along. Lukas Nelson, son of Willie, and his band The Promise of the Real appear as Jackson Maine’s band. Nelson also served as Cooper’s ‘authenticity consultant’ and co-wrote the song Black Eyes. Lady Gaga co-wrote many of the film’s songs, including the signature track Shallow, a passionate, soaring duet.

Gaga’s hordes of little monsters across the world already know she’s talented, and while she has appeared in movies and on TV before, Gaga displays a side of herself we haven’t yet seen in this revelatory performance. While Lady Gaga has been an established pop star for a decade, she convincingly portrays a fresh-faced ingenue who undergoes a whirlwind transformation into a musical sensation. It’s an incandescent performance refreshingly free of vanity that lets Gaga showcase the full range of her artistry without coming off as self-indulgent.

Cooper’s performance as a shambling rock star who is a shadow of his former self is eminently sympathetic. We gradually learn bits of Jackson’s tragic back-story and through his heated interactions with manager/older brother Bobby, see how Jackson’s self-destructive tendencies wear on those around him. The character is constantly burning bridges and trying to put out the resulting fires. Cooper draws on his own struggles with substance abuse earlier in his career, making this a personal, raw performance. Cooper also has a lovely singing voice that’s very apt for the type of character he’s playing. Cooper cast his own (absolutely adorable) dog Charlie in the film.

The supporting cast, including comedian Andrew Dice Clay as Ally’s father Lorenzo and Dave Chappelle as Jackson’s friend Noodle, all bring authentic, endearing performances to the fore. Musical theatre star Anthony Ramos is a joyous presence as Ally’s friend and co-worker Ramon but doesn’t get to sing. Rafi Gavron’s Rez comes off as a little flat by comparison, the manager character being the most one-note.

While the palpable chemistry between the leads carries this a long way, A Star is Born does demand a level of suspension of disbelief. Ally’s meteoric rise through the industry is almost too good to be true, and we rarely see Jackson and Ally’s relationship from the outside – in real life, gossip and speculation from fans and the media is sure to weigh at least a little on the romance.

There are many moments when the movie veers too close to all-out melodrama – it seems like Gaga is willing to go there, while Cooper reins things in. Co-writer Will Fetters’ credits include the syrupy Nicholas Sparks adaptations or Sparks-esque romances Remember Me, The Lucky One and The Best of Me, and some vestiges of that remain. Eric Roth (Forrest Gump, Munich, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) and Cooper rewrote Fetters’ initial draft. The movie’s ending plunges head-first into schmaltz, but by then, A Star is Born has earned the right to be shamelessly manipulative.

The rapturous reviews and deafening Oscar buzz are in danger of over-hyping A Star is Born by a little, but there is still plenty to admire. This is a film that will make audiences hungrily expect Cooper’s next directorial effort and Gaga’s next starring role. It’s a story that’s been told before, but this heady, emotional, heartfelt take on it proves that in the right hands, stars can indeed be reborn.

RATING: 4 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

The Predator movie review

THE PREDATOR

Director : Shane Black
Cast : Boyd Holbrook, Trevante Rhodes, Jacob Tremblay, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Keagan-Michael Key, Thomas Jane, Alfie Allen, Augusto Aguilera, Yvonne Strahovski, Jake Busey
Genre : Action/Sci-fi
Run Time : 107 mins
Opens : 13 September 2018
Rating : M18

The-Predator-posterHunting season has come around again: in the fourth instalment in the mainline series of Predator films, the galaxy’s deadliest killers have returned to earth to stalk their prey.

Quinn McKenna (Boyd Holbrook) is a former Army Ranger-turned mercenary who had a run-in with the alien species nicknamed ‘the Predator’ while on assignment in Mexico. Quinn salvages the Predator’s helmet and wrist gauntlet, which wind up in the hands of his young son Rory (Jacob Tremblay), unbeknownst to his mother Emily (Yvonne Strahovski). Rory has high-functioning autism, and decodes the Predator’s language, unwittingly summoning more Predators to earth.

The-Predator-Alfie-Allen-Keagan-Michael-Key-Thomas-Jane-Augusto-Aguilera-Boyd-Holbrook-Trevante-Rhodes

The authorities refuse to believe Quinn’s account, sending him to jail. Quinn is put on a bus with several other misfit veterans, including former Marine Nebraska Williams (Trevante Rhodes), Coyle (Keagan-Michael Key), Baxley (Thomas Jane), former Marine Lynch (Alfie Allen) and former Blackhawk helicopter pilot Nettles (Augusto Aguilera). The oddball bunch is waylaid when a Predator gets loose. Quinn and his new dysfunctional unit team up with biologist Casey Brackett (Olivia Munn). They must not only evade the Predators and ensure Rory’s safety, but also outrun government agent Will Traeger (Sterlin K. Brown), head of the shadowy Stargazer operation.

The-Predator-slamming-guy

The Predator franchise has often had difficulty getting up and running. The original 1987 film is regarded well, while Predator 2 and the spin-off Predators have more or less gained cult movie status. With Prometheus and Alien: Covenant, the Alien franchise has gotten somewhat high-falutin’ with its philosophical musings. The Predator films have tended to embrace their B-movie roots, something which director and co-writer Shane Black keeps alive in this one.

Black was there from the beginning, having played Hawkins in the first film. He previously worked with co-writer Fred Dekker on Monster Squad. As is typical of Black’s work, there is an undercurrent of smartass-ness running through The Predator, with everyone quipping back and forth. At the same time, there’s a welcome scrappiness to the movie, which seems the right scale and doesn’t become as bloated or as production-line as it could’ve been.

The-Predator-Predator-unmasked

The Predator possesses a nervous energy about it, apt for a film in which the protagonists are being hunted. It is sometimes difficult to discern what’s going on in the action sequences, but there are several inventive chases and fights. Special effects suit designers Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis of Amalgamated Dynamics Inc have worked on previous incarnations of the Predator, and there’s a welcome tactility to the creature that balances out the other parts of the film that rely more heavily on digital visual effects work.

The-Predator-Thomas-Jane-Keagan-Michael-Key-Boyd-Holbrook-Olivia-Munn

Dutch’s crew in the first film is one of the all-time great movie ensembles. Black puts an off-kilter spin on that by making the heroes of this film a collection of troubled, often-goofy outcasts. It’s as if the whole team has been Hawkins-ified, to varying degrees. They generate excellent chemistry, and the pairings of Holbrook and Rhodes, and Key and Jane yield results onscreen. There is the danger that the overall humorous tone might undercut the stakes, but there is enough grimness and gore to remind us of the mortal danger the characters are in.

The-Predator-Trevante-Rhodes-Olivia-Munn-Boyd-Holbrook

Boyd Holbrook has a laconic charm about him. While the Quinn character isn’t as charismatic as some of his cohorts, as the leader types in action movies are wont to be, Holbrook lends the part enough of a haunted quality and a devil-may-care vibe.

The-Predator-Jacob-Tremblay

The inclusion of a child with high-functioning autism is one of the film’s few concessions to schmaltziness. Jacob Tremblay of Room and Wonder fame does a fine job portraying a sensitive, gifted child, who is key to the fight against the Predators because of his ability to decipher their language. It’s a plot point that is handled with surprising finesse.

The-Predator-Olivia-Munn-1-small

Olivia Munn throws herself into the scientist role but can’t help but come off as the weak link. Maybe it’s just this reviewer, but she has a tendency to come off as unlikeable and isn’t quite convincing as either a biologist who has cracked the Predators’ genetic code or as a gun-toting badass.

Sterling K. Brown has a healthy amount of fun with his untrustworthy G-man character, while Keagan-Michael Key works overtime to steal the show, succeeding on many occasions. Jake Busey makes a cameo as Sean Keyes, the son of Peter Keyes, the character played by his father Gary in Predator 2.

The-Predator-Ultimate-Predator

The Predator has been described by other critics as “messy”, and while this reviewer will corroborate that, its messiness is not necessarily a bad thing – at least until the third act, which was hastily reshot after poor test screening results. There are moments when it feels like the story’s foundation is a little too flimsy to support some of the ideas at play, and there are also times when the wink-and-nod fanboy appeal gets in the way of the action and violence working on a visceral level. Its ending blatantly, clumsily begs for a sequel, but there’s enough in this instalment for long-time Predator fans and newcomers to the franchise to appreciate, if they can get on Black’s wavelength.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

A Simple Favour movie review

A SIMPLE FAVOUR

Director : Paul Feig
Cast : Anna Kendrick, Blake Lively, Henry Golding, Ian Ho, Joshua Satine, Linda Cardellini, Jean Smart, Rupert Friend, Andrew Rannells, Bashir Salahuddin
Genre : Drama/Mystery/Comedy
Run Time : 117 mins
Opens : 13 September 2018
Rating : M18

Big secrets hide in a small town in this mystery thriller. Stephanie Smothers (Anna Kendrick) is a single mum who lives in the suburb of Warfield, Connecticut with her son Miles (Joshua Satine). She produces a mum-centric vlog, giving tutorials on cooking and craft projects. Her uncomplicated existence is upended when she befriends Emily Nelson (Blake Lively), whose son Nicky (Ian Ho) goes to school with Miles.

It seems like Emily has it all: a high-flying job as a PR executive for fashion mogul Dennis Nylon (Rupert Friend), an adorable son, and a dashing husband in the form of writer and lecturer Sean Townsend (Henry Golding). Emily asks a simple favour from Stephanie: to pick Nicky up after school and look after him. Two days go by without Stephanie hearing anything from Emily. Questions surrounding her disappearance begin to pile up, as Sean grows attracted to Emily and Emily is drawn into a web of sordid secrets and lies. What’s a regular mum vlogger to do?

A Simple Favour is based on the novel of the same name by Darcey Bell and is billed as a “stylish post-modern film noir”. The film rights to the book were snapped up even before its publishing. The film has been described as Gone Girl-esque, but there are many instances when it’s not quite clear what director Paul Feig was going for. Feig has helmed comedies like Bridesmaids, Spy and Ghostbusters (2016), so it’s natural to worry that his comedic instincts might intrude on the mystery thriller elements of the story. They do, and as a result, A Simple Favour is tonally quite weird.

The film’s weirdness does make it interesting – this reviewer spent most of the movie puzzling over how much of said weirdness was intentional, and how much was accidental. There are moments when the film obviously wants to be dark and dramatic, but it also comes dangerously close to a parody of the domestic mystery thriller subgenre. Theodore Shapiro’s score plays a big part in this: someone will utter a revelation, then there’ll be obvious low trembling strings to go with it.

To Feig and screenwriter Jessica Sharzer’s credit, the mystery is engaging, but we want to keep watching to find out what happens the same way clickbait works – “I shouldn’t click on this, but I do want to find out why Hollywood stop casting Brendan Fraser”. By the time we’re invested, the story goes all-out, full-on ridiculous, trucking out the most melodramatic of ‘deep dark family secret’ plot twists. It’s hard to say if this would’ve worked any better played dead straight.

Both Kendrick and Lively play exactly to type. Kendrick is endearing and silly as an over-eager, over-earnest mum who finds herself way in over her head. The character is renamed ‘Stephanie Smothers’ when her surname was ‘Ward’ in the book – Stephanie Smothers sounds so much sillier, so much more on-the-nose, conjuring up an image of cloying sweetness. It’s mainly a comedic performance, and that seems to lead where the rest of the film goes tonally. She brings much of her signature ‘adorkable-ness’ to bear, and it seems like it is by design that the character is out of place in a dark, lurid mystery thriller.

Lively’s Emily is an aggressive, confident, icy go-getter, decked out in ensembles that might make even Serena van der Woodsen envious. The dynamic between Emily and Stephanie, with the former completely dominating the latter, is what the plot turns on. Emily and her husband seem like the picture-perfect couple, but of course there’s trouble in paradise. There are times when like Kendrick’s performance, Lively’s veers too close to caricature.

Henry Golding’s casting in this is a pretty big deal – the film went into production before the release of Crazy Rich Asians, meaning there was buzz about him in Hollywood before that film became the hot-button movie it is now. In movies like this, the husband character in movies like this is either in on it, or just really stupid. This might only be Golding’s second movie, but it seems he already has a type he’ll be cast in – namely, handsome, charming and a little bit aloof. He’s not entirely convincing in some of the more dramatic scenes, but he does fit alongside the attractive leads.

The supporting characters all feel like they walked out of a comedy – Andrew Rannells plays one of the ‘mums’ who makes catty comments at Stephanie from the side-lines, while Rupert Friend plays Emily’s boss, a flamboyant style maven. Linda Cardellini shows up as a goth-punk artist who wears a Slayer t-shirt as she wields and paints knives.

A Simple Favour might not work on the level it was intended to, but while its extremely uneasy mix of comedy and sex-and-secrets-soaked mystery thriller results in it being silly, it also prevents the movie from being bland. Perhaps this would’ve worked better in the hands of someone who’s sensibilities were a bit more British, who could have brought more wicked brand of acid-dipped wit to the proceedings. As it stands, A Simple Favour is a curiousity that audiences might not love but should find interesting.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Marvellous by Design: Ryan Meinerding interview

MARVELLOUS BY DESIGN


Marvel Studios Visual Development head Ryan Meinerding talks crafting the look of a cinematic universe

By Jedd Jong

A decade and 20 movies in, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is going stronger than ever, with hardcore fans and casual viewers alike watching with rapt attention with every film that’s released. In the beginning, before the MCU became the juggernaut it is today, the success of this franchise wasn’t such a sure thing, and studio head Kevin Feige was not sure if audiences would respond well enough to warrant the studio moving forward with the interconnected series of films.

Audiences have more than responded well, and a big part of the appeal of these movies is how they look, and how the design that goes into each MCU movie crystallises decades of material from the comics drawn by hundreds of artists and brings it to life onscreen.

As the head of the Marvel Studios visual development team, Ryan Meinerding has had a hand in crafting the look of the costumes, character designs and locations for practically every Marvel Studios film. Meinerding had worked with Iron Man director Jon Favreau on a version of John Carter that did not come to fruition. Favreau brought Meinerding on board, and alongside comic book artist Adi Granov and other artists, Meinerding devised the look for the first film in the MCU.

It’s staggering to think that most every image on screen in an MCU film began as a piece of concept art that Ryan and the visual development team working under his direction created. As a guest of the 11th Singapore Toy, Games and Comics Convention (STGCC), Ryan is in Singapore to meet fans and speak about his experience working on the MCU movies.

Ryan spoke to my good friend Tina Gan (a.k.a Red Dot Diva) and I at the preview of STGCC. He covered his journey with Marvel Studios so far, the character he is fondest of designing costumes for, the strength of the visual storytelling in MCU films, what it’s like working with different directors brought onto the movies, and how the visual development team works to ground the designs in reality.

JEDD: This is the tenth anniversary of Marvel Studios. Looking back through the ten years, can you take us through your history with the studio?

RYAN MEINERDING: Wow, that’s a large question. I was brought on board by Jon Favreau, I worked with Jon Favreau previously. I got to work on Iron Man 1 to design the Mark 1 and did keyframe with Adi Granov on Iron Monger, and we were trying to figure out the boot test sequence when he’s building the suit in his garage, and a couple of other things. After that project, Marvel asked me to come back to stay on board and help them figure out some of their next films, so I worked on early passes on Captain America, on Thor, and after that period of time, we went straight into Iron Man 2 and Thor.

I had recommended Charlie Wen to help come on board and help figure out Thor, so we worked together on Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. After that, when we were going to work on The Avengers, Marvel Studios asked if I would hire more artists and form a time. We hired Andy Park, Rodney Fuentebella, Jackson Sze and eventually Anthony Francisco, and that team has stayed the same throughout the rest of the movies. We hire freelance artists as well, but it’s a real joy having been there from the beginning, creating a team and having the team deliver on all of the films since The Avengers. It’s a real treat, all the artists I get to work with on a daily basis are amazing. The fact that the cinematic universe has grown from the singular movie to something that’s 20 movies large and still going strong is really incredible.

TINA: How would you describe the essential MCU look and feel?

RYAN: Since Iron Man was the first movie and he’s one of the few superheroes whose superpowers are based in technology that could actually be created, I’d say there’s a grounded quality to everything we’re trying to do. We’re usually trying to make things feel as real as possible, whether it’s about making a suit that can make you fly and having super strength, or whether it’s designing a suit for Captain America where it feels like a real tactical thing, while still retaining the iconic look from the comics. Usually we’re trying to take something iconic from the comics and turn it into something that feels as real for the story world that the directors and producers are looking to create.

JEDD: In any adaptation, especially with comic book movies, there’s always a ‘war’ between iconic imagery and original thought. How would you describe fighting that war?

RYAN: I don’t know if we ever look at it as ‘original thought’. We’re usually trying to take what’s iconic and try to make something that feels real, and honestly add enough detail to it that with HD cinema and HD TV screens, the characters don’t feel too simple. The characters in the comics were always designed to be simple and iconic so they could be drawn over and over again, and we’re trying to take those icons and really flesh them out in enough reality in concept and aesthetics to make them belong in the real world, so they feel almost more real than real.

TINA: There are many moving parts in a film production, so when you have a design for a costume, where does the costume designer come in? Do they have a say after your designs have been approved to make alterations?

RYAN: Film in general is a huge collaborative experience. We are fortunate enough to get the designs approved by going to meetings with the producers and directors, and the costume designers are in those meetings as well. If they have concerns or they want to have input and say “we don’t think this will work”, we work around that. Once we finish and have the designs approved, they take the designs and see what will really work on the actors, and the actors have input on what will be comfortable and what they’re looking for in the costumes as well. There’s always a give and take, we’re giving and taking when we’re trying to get the designs approved, and they’re giving and taking with what they can accomplish.

Alexandra Byrne, who’s an Academy Award-winning costume designer whom I’ve gotten to work with on a few movies like Thor, Avengers and Avengers 2, described the collaboration with us the best I’ve ever heard it. She said, “we can achieve something together that we can never achieve on our own.” We come at it from a concept artists’ point of view of loving the characters and wanting to do justice to the comics, and they come at way from what’s the way this costume can be built that can look the best on the actor, and those two things together end in a result that hopefully elevates the character to a place that they couldn’t have gotten to without us working together.

JEDD: Different directors have different styles of working with people. What was it like working with Jon Favreau vs Joss Whedon vs the Russo Brothers?

RYAN: Jon is great to work with. He loves working with artists, he’s an artist himself. On the first Iron Man, my desk was 20 feet from his office. He was very involved with things. He was very collaborative, he’d say “come up with some ideas about how Tony can build the suit in his garage”, and I would come up with ideas and  pitch him and he’d say “I like this, I don’t like this”, that was always really exciting.

Working with Joss is incredible too, he’s a lot of fun. In presentations he’s the guy who’s making everybody laugh, he’s just fun to be around. He was incredibly collaborative too, he has very distinct ideas about what he wants to get out of a costume, what we would bring to it, and he would react to it.

The Russo Brothers are also really cool because they have a lot of notions about grounding the costumes. They want them to feel real, to feel really practical. In most cases that ends up like the Captain America movies, pushing Cap towards a very tactical feel. Each director I’ve worked for has been amazing in their own way. It’s been a real joy to work with such talented filmmakers and try to deliver what they’re looking for.

JEDD: The MCU is unique in that it’s the first successful cinematic universe in this era of movies, and many studios have tried to emulate, but never to the same degree of success. From your point of view, what is the balance between keeping a cohesive overview of the universe while ensuring each movie and each character has their own personality? What is that like visually?

RYAN: I’d like to say that I was responsible for the whole universe, but Kevin Feige is really the guy that has all that working in his head. We as the visual development team are fortunate enough to just try to make every movie work, and Kevin will give notes on what he thinks is going to work in the long run. I think the real useful part of the visual development team and the work that we’ve done on the characters and how it fits in with the movies is the visuals are so tied to the story.

If you look at Captain America in the first movie and the first time he put on the costume, the costume was essentially the look from the comics, but it was him in the USO show and it was something he thought was silly and wanted to walk away from, even though he was a symbol of something greater than himself. When he got a chance to put on his own costume, he chose things that were a little cooler, he had the helmet, he had the leather jacket and the pants. When he came back from that mission, he could see the value in not only being a soldier but a symbol, and that translated into his look for the movie.

That sort of desire to tie the visuals and the character to something very concrete in the story is something that I feel is unique to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Because it becomes so tied to that story, it allows you to move on from that in the next movie. It’s not like you’re constantly searching for the single Captain America costume that’s going to work, it’s what is going to work for this movie and this story point and allow that visual to represent that one moment. So in the next movie, the icon can be broad enough, and the next movie can have another grounded point.

 

In The Avengers, Coulson makes him his costume and he’s a symbol again, but he feels uncomfortable as a man out of time. In Winter Soldier, when he’s actually meant to be in contemporary time periods, he’s more of a stealth figure. All of that stuff allows for a very grounded notion of “this is the character’s journey, this is where he’s been, this is where he’s going in this movie.” That kind of stuff speaks to Kevin’s overarching view and understanding that the journey is larger that just one single thing.

Honestly, if we’d landed on a singular really, really strong version of Captain America and it wouldn’t change, all of a sudden it would take away the storytelling possibilities. The fact that we’ve been able to change, the icon is flexible enough to be reinvented several times in the films, that’s actually one of the strengths of it. It’s not necessarily that we need to have that one definitive version.

JEDD: And even now as Nomad when he rips the star off, that’s storytelling too, visually.

RYAN: Totally.

TINA: Which was the most challenging movie to work on, and which was your favourite?

RYAN: The most challenging movies are always the Avengers movies, because there are so many characters. With every Avengers movie, there are more and more characters, so it just winds up being harder and harder to do. You’re trying to give each character as much love as you would if they were in their own movie on their own, but there are upwards of 30, 40, 50, 60 characters in some of these Avengers movies. My favourite character, I love designing Cap costumes because that storyline, that journey that he’s on, is one that I’ve been able to work on from the beginning, and I’m very fortunate and happy to have been working on from the beginning. Spider-Man is also very fun to work on.

JEDD: In the MCU, I think Kevin Feige did something smart in starting off with Iron Man, which is based in technology, before branching off into the fantasy and cosmic realms. Which of the realms do you most enjoy working in?

RYAN: I definitely have worked more in the grounded reality of Iron Man and Captain America. Cap is slightly different, Winter Soldier wound up being more like a political thriller, but I enjoy all of them. I think the strength of the universe now is that it has so many different aspects to it. Bringing them all together into the Avengers movie is also a terrific, fun thing to have characters bouncing off each other that you never thought you’d see. Iron Man bouncing off of Doctor Strange bouncing off of Guardians, it’s a lot of fun.

TINA: Is there something particularly cool that was designed and thought of that did not make it into the movie?

RYAN: On Iron Man 1, we designed looks for JARVIS, him as a computer system, as a wall installation. There were going to be some things when Obadiah breaks into the house, JARVIS was going to be disabled and you were going to see what he looked like.

We also had some fun ideas for Hulkbuster. When Hulkbuster was going to land in South Africa to fight Hulk, we were pitching ideas that he could take over office buildings, he would have enough reach in the technology that he could light up different office windows to point arrows, to say to pedestrians “leave the area”. We had fun ideas like that, Tony is really looking to protect all the people around him.

I don’t know if there’s anything specific besides small things like that. I’m very fortunate in that a lot of things I’ve worked on have been able to become the look that’s on screen, so I’m generally excited about the way the characters turn out in the films. In the explorations that we do, we always try to explore enough things for each character that the directors and producers feel they have enough choices to work with.

JEDD: I love to take ownership of the work I’ve done, sometimes it’s me being a little selfish, but I like to take credit for what I do. What happens when you watch the movie and go, “oh, that’s a head Andy Park did, but that’s a body I did and Charlie did the wings”. Do you look at yourselves as a team, or do you go “oh, that’s mine!”

RYAN: We always try to be very respectful of if somebody’s doing a design that’s being responded to, we try to let that artist run with it. There are times when what you’re describing happens, but hopefully we’re all a team enough that we can be excited that what’s on screen looks good and be excited that we got to work together and collaborate on it.

Peppermint movie review

PEPPERMINT

Director : Pierre Morel
Cast : Jennifer Garner, John Gallagher Jr., John Ortiz, Richard Cabral, Annie Ilonzeh, Jeff Hephner, Cailey Fleming
Genre : Action/Drama/Thriller
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 6 September 2018
Rating : NC16

In the regrettable Daredevil and the even more regrettable spin-off Elektra, Jennifer Garner played an assassin with vengeance on the mind. Is this action thriller, Garner is once again out to give those who have wronged her what’s coming to them, as kind of a gender-flipped Punisher.

Garner plays Riley North, a banker who lives in suburban L.A. with her husband Chris (Jeff Hephner) and young daughter Carly (Cailey Fleming). Riley’s life is brutally upended when her husband and daughter are murdered in a drive-by shooting. She identifies the shooters as drug cartel members, but the cartel has paid off officials in the courts and law enforcement; those responsible walk free. Riley is enraged, and sets about remaking herself into a one-woman army, hunting down and killing those who murdered her family and those who helped them get away with it. With LAPD officers Carmichael (John Gallagher Jr.) and Moises (John Ortiz) and FBI Agent Inman (Annie Ilonzeh) hot on her trail, Riley must evade the long arm of the law as she deals out her own fiery brand of justice.

Peppermint follows in a long line of revenge thrillers, and shares much in common with Death Wish, often thought of as the codifier of the subgenre. The poor reception garnered by the Bruce Willis-starring Death Wish remake earlier this year showed that as straightforward as movies like this might seem on paper, it takes finesse and savvy to execute them well. Peppermint wants to be a hard-boiled revenge movie like those Hollywood made in the 70s, but times have changed, and movies like this are expected to be more sophisticated in their handling of the themes. The Jodie Foster starrer The Brave One, also about a woman who survives a traumatic event and becomes a vigilante, attempted this but left a lot to be desired in its take on the morality of vigilante justice.

In most vigilante thrillers, we’re meant to root for the protagonist as they take matters into their own hands. To get us there, Peppermint employs emotionally manipulative tactics. The protagonist’s husband and daughter, leaving a carnival with peppermint ice cream in her hand, are gunned down in painful slow-motion, and all the family bonding scenes they share preceding that fateful moment are just set up for the death. We’re supposed to cheer Riley on as she blazes her path of vengeance, even as she acts sadistically. It’s too unpleasant to be much fun, and it seems like it wasn’t meant to be fun at all.

There’s a version of Peppermint that could have been an all-out bloody exploitation movie, enjoyable on a trashy level. Instead, director Pierre Morel, who also helmed Taken, seems intent on making it work on a dramatic level, which he struggles with. As such, while the action in Peppermint is sometimes intense, the movie is altogether grave and joyless, taking itself far too seriously. In both its premise and execution, Peppermint seems to be a movie that wants to be treated like a serious drama, instead of violent entertainment.

Much of the film hinges on Jennifer Garner’s performance, and it is nice to see her back in an action role, years after Alias, the afore-mentioned Daredevil and Elektra, and The Kingdom. Garner has mostly been in family movies as of late, so there’s a degree of satisfaction in seeing her go the full Sarah Connor. We’ve got to buy Riley as someone who transforms from regular career woman and mum to a hardened badass, and Garner puts effort into making that metamorphosis convincing. However, the movie still demands plenty of suspension of disbelief, and Garner’s central performance, strong as it is, is not enough to hold the whole thing together.

The other characters fall neatly into boxes: cop, gang member, husband, daughter, et. al. The movie isn’t too interested in fleshing anyone out, and while the villains of the film are shown committing despicable acts, they’re too nondescript to be compellingly threatening. Ortiz overacts a little as the harried cop, while John Gallagher Jr.’s performance as the cop who’s sympathetic to Riley is at least a little interesting.

Peppermint is an uncomplicated movie about a complicated topic. It wants to give the appearance of considering the implications of what it depicts but doesn’t really. Perhaps the current political climate in the U.S. mirrors that of the 70s to a certain degree, resulting in resentment of the status quo and frustration at the injustices that are a by-product of corruption and complacency. However, if we’re supposed to take a vigilante thriller seriously and really consider the questions it raises, it’s got to be more nuanced and less heavy-handed than Peppermint.

RATING: 2.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Crazy Rich Asians movie review

CRAZY RICH ASIANS

Director : Jon M. Chu
Cast : Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Koh Chieng Mun, Chris Pang, Sonoya Mizuno, Pierre Png, Selena Tan, Nico Santos, Janice Koh, Remy Hii, Harry Shum Jr., Fiona Xie, Carmen Soo, Jimmy O. Yang
Genre : Comedy/Drama/Romance
Run Time : 120 mins
Opens : 22 August 2018
Rating : PG-13

Crazy Rich Asians, the film adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name, has arrived on the big screen. There are many hopes pinned on this film, which has generated its share of controversy and backlash from its earliest stages of development. Let’s head to sunny Singapore and break all this down.

The film centres on Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), a Chinese-American economics professor at NYU who has found the love of her life: the dashing Nicholas Young (Henry Golding). Nick is heading back home to Singapore for the wedding of his best friend Colin (Chris Pang) to his fiancé Araminta (Sonoya Mizuno). Nick suggests that Rachel come along and meet the family. What could possibly go wrong?

What Nick’s been hiding from Rachel all this time is that he is the heir to the wealthiest family in Singapore. Naturally, Rachel earns the ire and extreme jealousy of all the eligible society bachelorettes who thought they stood a chance with Nick. Rachel faces the condescension and rejection of Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh). Rachel seems attacked on all sides, getting way in over her head. In her corner is her college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina), who hails from a wealthy Singaporean family too. Rachel also has her loving mother Kerry (Tan Kheng Hua), who immigrated to the U.S. from China, supporting her. Rachel navigates the treacherous waters of Singaporean high society, as she faces questions of identity, self-worth, and whether Nick is worth all this trouble.

On the surface, Crazy Rich Asians is a frothy romantic comedy of manners. It’s a fish out of water story and is naturally being sold on its depictions of decadence, opulence, indulgence, and other things ending in -ence. There’s a lot more to Crazy Rich Asians than first appears – the story means to examine status, the true value of material wealth, the classification of people as ‘outsiders’ or ‘insiders’ – themes that have been explored before, but not in the context of Singapore’s sphere of affluence in a major Hollywood studio film.

There’s a lot of baggage that has been piled onto this movie, whether it deserves that or not. Hollywood is looking for more representation – or more cynically, to get credit for representation. Being the first Hollywood movie with a predominantly Asian cast since The Joy Luck Club back in 1993, many are looking to Crazy Rich Asians as a triumph for representation and diversity in mainstream Hollywood movies.

This is a film that will mean different things to different people – it’s important to note that the film’s protagonist is Chinese-American, and we see things from her perspective. The questions of her identity are framed by her encountering her boyfriend’s Singaporean family. The film has been decried by several Singaporeans for being an inaccurate portrayal of the island nation. Ethnic minorities like Malays and Indians are nowhere to be found, and nearly everyone speaks in posh English or brash New York-ish accents.

This reviewer would argue that Crazy Rich Asians does not have a responsibility to depict all of Singapore, nor should it be taken as a film about Singapore. Its focus on a tiny slice of Singapore society may come across as narrow, but the circumstances specified by the story justify this depiction. This reviewer would love to see Singapore depicted in all its facets in a Hollywood film – that’s not the goal of Crazy Rich Asians, nor does it mean to be, but the frustration at a skewed version of Singapore being presented for consumption worldwide is understandable.

Crazy Rich Asians falls victim somewhat to ‘have your cake and eat it too’ syndrome. This is going to be a weird example but bear with us: the 2009 sci-fi action film Gamer wanted to be an indictment of the mass-consumption of overly violent, crass media, while being an example of the very thing it is attempting to satirise. Crazy Rich Asians does this for the lifestyles of the uber-wealthy. We’re meant to question the ultimate intangible worth of having a lot of stuff and having every whim catered to, just as we’re meant to gaze upon tableaus of ridiculous luxury with voyeuristic pleasure. There is an undeniable novelty factor, however slight, at the thought that audiences in Des Moines, Iowa might walk into the multiplex and see Newton Hawker Centre and Gardens by the Bay on the big screen.

Director Jon M. Chu, who has a background in dance movies, stages the proceedings with visual panache to spare. As with any adaptation of a novel, things are whittled down, and there’s a lot of plot to get through. The movie barrels along like a freight train – there’s nary a dull moment, but there isn’t enough room for the story to breathe. Better that than things being boring, we figure.

This is a soap opera, and there are altogether too many characters to keep track of, but the film trains its focus on Rachel. Fresh Off the Boat star Constance Wu makes for an intelligent, lively, likeable and vulnerable lead. The scenes in which she matches wits with Michelle Yeoh’s Eleanor are a hoot, and a scene she shares with her mother, played by Tan Kheng Hua, brought this reviewer to tears.

Much ink has been spilled about Golding’s mixed heritage. It’s hard to talk about this without sounding like characters in Harry Potter throwing around phrases like “pureblood” and “half-blood”, so we won’t. He’s handsome and earnest and just bland enough in the way male leads in modern rom-coms often are. Nick is a decent person, while most of the people in his social circle aren’t, making us root for Rachel and Nick to end up together.

Michelle Yeoh gives the stock type of the glowering prospective mother-in-law just enough depth, and Eleanor articulates exactly why she’s so wary of Rachel. Yeoh’s performance is a savvy one, lending the proceedings gravitas. There’s a sly bit of commentary in seeing Eleanor lead a Bible study group comprised of her rich friends – the implication is that these are people who prize material gain over all else hiding behind the veneer of religious virtue.

The rest of the cast is comprised of a lot of attractive people doing attractive people things, and sometimes they can blend together a little. The camera lingers on Pierre Png’s bare torso as he exits the shower, and much is made of how physically beautiful the characters played by Gemma Chan and Sonoya Mizuno are. There are also many characters who are outwardly attractive but are awful on the inside.

Peik Lin and her family stand out by design – they’re outlandish, brash, and they’re rich but not pretentious. Awkwafina is utterly enjoyable, delivering a giddily infectious performance. Ken Jeong and Koh Chieng Mun are plenty of fun as Peik Lin’s parents. Nico Santos hams it up as Oliver, who calls himself the ‘rainbow sheep’ of the family. Oliver does fall a little too neatly into the ‘gay best friend’ role, but Santos gives the character welcome personality.

There are times when Crazy Rich Asians is a touch too ridiculous for its own good – there’s an Apocalypse Now homage (think helicopters and “Ride of the Valkyries”) that seems a little too on the nose. However, there are others when performers showcase excellent comic timing, and the film hits a pleasantly silly pitch.

Crazy Rich Asians is a lot of things, and there will be a wide range of reactions to it. There will be more social media comments hung up on the accents, and there will be thoughtful socio-political treatises deconstructing the film and what its existence means in the current film industry landscape. As a frothy, sometimes-clumsy, almost-emotional rom-com, Crazy Rich Asians works.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

Crazy Rich Asians Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh interviews

For inSing 

A GIRL, A GUY AND A POTENTIAL MOTHER-IN-LAW

Stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh talk Crazy Rich Asians

By Jedd Jong

While visiting the Singapore set of Crazy Rich Asians last year, inSing spoke to stars Constance Wu, Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh. Here’s what they had to say about the film:

CONSTANCE WU

Constance Wu plays Rachel, the lead character in Crazy Rich Asians. The actress is best known for playing Jessica Huang in the TV series Fresh Off the Boat and has appeared in TV shows like Torchwood, Covert Affairs and Law & Order: Special Victims Unit. Wu is an outspoken feminist and champion for Asian representation in mainstream Hollywood media. As a take-off on the #StarringJohnCho meme, the #StarringConstanceWu meme similarly served to highlight how many Hollywood films could’ve worked with Asian stars like Cho and Wu in lead roles.

Wu spoke to inSing about filming on location in Singapore, working with her co-stars Henry Golding and Michelle Yeoh, how she spent her downtime in Singapore, and the importance of Crazy Rich Asians in the Hollywood landscape.

inSing: What does being part of this project mean to you?

CONSTANCE WU: Being rich, being crazy and being Asian [laughs]. It’s great being part of an ensemble that really gets along really well, and is trying to make a story that’s really fun and wonderful.

What was it like filming in Singapore and Malaysia? Does the heat get to you?

We had such an incredible crew that once they realised that they needed to bring more air conditioners and stuff like that, the crew was so hardworking and so caring that they really took care of us. Even on days when it’s really hot, there are all these people with fans and water around. Even though it’s been hot, the local crews have been so wonderful, it’s so great.

Can you go out without being recognised here?

I got more recognised here than I did in Malaysia. But yeah, I think I can blend in. Sunglasses, baseball cap [laughs].

What is it like working with Michelle, is she intimidating?

Oh, no! Michelle is very kind, very down to earth, she’s not as intimidating as Eleanor. But when she plays Eleanor, she definitely brings that. But as a person, no, she’s very kind

How about working with Henry?

It was great. He was really eager to do well.

Henry has discussed the backlash he received because of the ethnicity of the character of Nick. He was saying that you can’t get more Asian than him, because he grew up in Asia and spent all this time in Asia. What was your response to that backlash?

I don’t think it’s true that you can’t get more Asian than anybody, than him, because that implies that there’s one standard, and I don’t think there’s any standard of what’s more Asian or not. I think you create your own identity, and the identity you create is borne of many things: where you choose to live, what language you speak, what language your parents speak, what music you love, what stories you love. Those are all factors that make you who you are, and there isn’t any one person who’s more Asian than another person. There are just individuals. And that’s why this movie is so great: it doesn’t show Asians as just one monolith. It shows the diversity amongst Asians. You have characters as different from Kitty Pong to Rachel. You couldn’t be more different, both of them are Asian. Diversity within an Asian cast shows the richness of character within a culture and the richness of individual spirits within a culture, that are influenced by the culture but still claiming individual identity.

Everyone loves you from Fresh Off the Boat, and now you’re in Crazy Rich Asians. Do you see yourself as the ideal Asian-American representative in Hollywood?

I don’t think I’m the [ideal] Asian representative. I really like bringing to life stories about being Asian in the world, because there aren’t a lot of them, and I think they’re beautiful stories. It’s an honour to work with Nina, with Jon, and with Kevin Kwan’s story. It’s based on very personal things that happened to him.

Have you met your fair share of crazy rich Asians?

I’ve never met many.

So you’re very much like Rachel, in that you’re not used to this opulence.

No, not at all. I don’t even think I’ve met a crazy rich person, Asian or not, any person. I grew up working-class [laughs] in Virginia, in the United States.

Awkafina has said that there have been projects where she feels like the token Asian on set, and in this movie, that’s totally gone and she feels happy to be among her peers. Do you feel that this is a landmark, moving forward?

Sure. We’ve actually never had a studio movie that starred all Asians that wasn’t a period piece. Because The Joy Luck Club, that came out I think 20 years ago, it was partially a period piece. A lot of the Asian cinema that we see in theatres are period pieces, like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. They’re all beautiful and I love that we have a lot of period pieces, but why don’t we ever see Asian-Americans in a contemporary context? Why don’t we see mainstream movies where they’re using cell phones, you know? [Laughs] It’s not because we don’t, you’re using your cell phone right now. It’s a way to include them in the current conversation by showing them in a contemporary context, saying that they are here and they are contemporary, and our stories matter. So that is really ground-breaking, and is part of the reason why I took on this project.

On your Instagram, we saw that you made The Rabbit Headquarters your first stop in Singapore. What made you want to visit them?

I love rabbits, I have a rabbit and I couldn’t bring her here.

What’s your rabbit’s name?

Her name is Lida Rose. She’s four-years-old and she’s very cute. I really missed her, I don’t know why, but I really love rabbits. So the first thing I wanted to do when I came to Singapore was to go see rabbits.

You also posted on Instagram that you went to watch Wonder Woman in Singapore. Do you think that that’s on the horizon, an Asian female-led genre piece in Hollywood?

I don’t know, but I do consider this film to be a female-led piece. Even though a lot of people think it’s a love story, I don’t think it’s a love story. I truly think this story is about women and the sacrifices they make to protect men. If you look at what Michelle’s character does, Eleanor, [she] makes a sacrifice to protect Nick. If you look at what Astrid does, Astrid makes a sacrifice so that Michael doesn’t feel inferior about his lack of wealth as well. It’s all about these quiet sacrifices that women make, they don’t need to show off, and how they navigate them through their female friendships, especially Rachel’s friendship with Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina.

I do think with movies like this movie and Wonder Woman that hopefully stories that have females who are not just objects of romance but who are making sacrifices and making choices and having agency in their lives, that those are stories we’ll see. If it happens in the context of a big Marvel blockbuster, that’s great too, but if it happens in the contemporary context of Crazy Rich Asians, that’s awesome too. I think the thing that we want is narrative plentitude, as opposed to narrative scarcity, so we want more stories, and not just one. If you don’t identify with one story, then maybe there’s another story you identify with.

When you were growing up, did you find that there weren’t enough female Asian characters to look up to?

Yeah, precisely because I’m not interested in actresses who are known for their beauty. I am interested in actresses who are known for their talent and their depth. This is not the fault of the actresses, but a lot of Hollywood movies try to sexualise or romanticise women, as if they’re just supposed to be there are be pretty. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it, but that’s not what moves me. Growing up, I didn’t think about it too much, because you’re just a kid – you’re thinking about what you’re going to have for lunch [laughs]. You’re not thinking about those kinds of things.

I grew up in the theatre, and the theatre is very welcoming. Especially where I grew up, all the gay people went to theatre, because it’s a welcoming place. I always felt very welcome in the theatre, and that’s why I kept pursuing it, because it felt like family there.

We saw you filming a very emotional scene. How do you get into that headspace?

Oh, that’s boring. I don’t want to bore you with all the stuff I have to go to get into that. That’s the most boring stuff, actor’s stuff. I’ve trained my whole life as a serious actor. I’ve gone to a conservatory, I’ve done Shakespeare, I’ve done all of it – and it’s boring! It’s like if I taught you how to fix a car. It’s very boring [laughs].

But it gets you to that place.

Yeah. Different people have different techniques. You find the ones that work for you, and then you use them. But when the writing’s good, it’s pretty easy, and when the actors are good, it’s easy too.

HENRY GOLDING

The producers of Crazy Rich Asians searched far and wide for their dashing female lead, and settled on British-Malaysian TV personality Henry Golding. Golding is best known as a TV presenter, having hosted several travel shows. Despite having no acting credits to his name prior to this film, Golding is poised for stardom, having clinched a role in the upcoming Paul Feig-directed thriller A Simple Favour opposite Anna Kendrick and Blake Lively. He is also set to play a gay Vietnamese man returning to his home country in the independent film Monsoon, from director Hong Khaou. The story goes that an accountant on Crazy Rich Asians mentioned to their line producer that they had seen Golding host a red carpet event, reducing most of the women there to jelly.

In this interview, Golding spoke about making his acting debut, addressed the backlash to his casting, discussed working with his onscreen mother Michelle Yeoh and the explained the predicament his character Nick Young finds himself in.

inSing: What has it been like filming the movie?

HENRY GOLDING: Filming has been insane. It’s been a real learning curve for myself, but the crew here have been nothing but welcoming. It’s just become this huge family. I think that really makes a difference, and the one person who spearheads that is Jon. Jon is like a big brother to everyone, he’s got the patience of a saint, and that trickles down. When you’ve got a good director who doesn’t stress or shout, it makes everybody’s job easier. It’s been nothing but an amazing experience. I have nothing bad to say about it!

What were the challenges you’ve had to overcome, seeing as this is your first feature film role?

I’ve had very little onscreen time in terms of acting experience, but through the years, I’ve always wanted to get into acting. Movies are a big, big passion of mine, and have been for such a long time. Whilst watching movies, I’ve been analysing this whole time, and I’ve identified bad acting, and in a way, my love of movies and actors really helped bring something of mine. Acting is being in the moment, and being very present. Being intuitive to emotions, you blend those together, and I hope I did a good job.

Did you feel nervous acting opposite performers who’ve been in the industry longer than you have?

That was the weird thing, not at all. If anybody, it would’ve been Michelle who would’ve freaked me out. Michelle is queen bee. She is classy, she’s the person you wish for Michelle to be, and much more. I’ve grown up watching her and when we first met, I called her up when we landed in KL and said “would you mind if we had tea [together]”, and she said “no, not at all!” So we had 2-3 hour tea and crumpets, just to get to know each other. From her side, there was zero diva, almost minus diva-ness. She’s really been everybody’s favourite, she’s a saint.

The producer Nina Jacobson said you are the ideal Nick, and you had everything they were looking for in Nick. But of course, there has been some backlash because of your ethnicity. What would you say to the critics?

There are plenty of directions we can always go with this. We’ll go through the spectrum. Historically, Asia, especially Southeast Asia, is such a mix of blood, in terms of Peranakan, you’ve got the Malacca and Penang, all those Dutch and Portuguese influences, there’s mixed blood everywhere. That’s something that the Westerners, even Chinese-Americans, don’t understand. We are such a melting pot here in Southeast Asia. What we should be proud of is we’re representing this side of the world. People are only concerned with Chinese-Americans in Hollywood. Then there’s the rest of us, who are maybe a little bit of Malay, a bit of Peranakan, everything.

When it comes to me being half-English, to me, I identify more with my Asian side. I’m from Sarawak. You cannot get more Asian than coming from five hours into the jungle. I would put myself against anybody from the States – how Asian do you have to be? I don’t understand. I’ve lived all my life in Asia, I align myself with the Asian cultures, but then it’s easy for somebody to say “he’s not Asian, he’s just a white guy!” They’ve never left wherever they’re from. It’s easy to point fingers, it’s easy to criticise, and it’s easy to always never be able to make everybody happy. That’s something we have to come to terms with. But for me, I’m extremely proud that I’m able to represent Singapore, Malaysia, all of us Southeast Asian countries. It’s very important that we’ve made it this far, and I take my hat off to Warner Bros. for taking it there. We’re breaking boundaries with this film.

Tell us about your character Nick.

Nick is…his own self. Nick has a very rich history, especially with Singapore. His family is of the old guard. For Nick, he is very acutely aware that he’s the heir apparent to these riches, that he’s Singapore’s poster child for that old system, but he wants to be his own person. He wants to shine as Nick Yong, not of Ah Ma’s creation or Eleanor’s creation. He left to find himself – he went to Oxford to study, then he went to New York, all under the guise of trying to find himself – and he found himself in Rachel. That bond is essentially the core of the story. It’s a love story. He is a bit silly in not explaining what is waiting for Rachel, but what he’s most afraid of is her judging him for that, and her thinking differently of the Nick that she fell in love with. He’s caught in between this hell and heaven, where he needs to introduce to that part of his life, but he doesn’t want to scare her. He doesn’t know how to put it across, because his grand idea would be to bring her over and throw her into that pot.

So it’s a little bit like Eddie Murphy’s character in Coming to America, in a way.

In a sense, in a sense. Thankfully, Rachel does enjoy herself, and ends up falling in love with Singapore, almost finding something in herself. She was never in touch with her ancestry, apart from her mother, her Asian-ness. For her, all of this is new. It goes back to how Asian you have to be to actually be Asian. For her, she’s a foreigner, coming to Singapore. She’s learning a culture that she’s not familiar with.

How strongly did you identify with the character?

It was very strange, because Nick shoes that I stepped into are very similar to my own, in a sense. His sense of not really identifying with the past – his identity is something he’s always had problems with. He’s not ashamed of his family, but he’s very aware that it can be very jarring for someone like Rachel. When I was growing up in England, I was seen as a foreigner, then when I’m back in Asia, I was a foreigner as well, so where do you belong? You’re a stranger everywhere. When I was creating Nick, it was more conceptualising the ideas and the memories that Nick had. Growing up with Colin, how he met Rachel, the process of him falling in love, and his relationship with his mother, one of the key components of this story. Those are the things I had to explore, and have those triggers ready for a scene which would bring those to the front.

MICHELLE YEOH

Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh is no stranger to moviegoers in Asia, and has made considerable inroads into Hollywood as well. She is perhaps best known for her roles in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies and the Lee Ang-directed martial arts epic Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She has also taken on prestige pictures like the Aun Sung Suu Kyi biopic The Lady. Lately, Yeoh has appeared in sci-fi projects like Star Trek: Discovery and Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2.

In Crazy Rich Asians, Yeoh plays Eleanor Young, who butts heads with protagonist Rachel Chu (Constance Wu), who is dating her beloved son Nick (Henry Golding). Much of the conflict derives from differences in culture and class, with Eleanor being the main obstacle standing in the way of Rachel finding happiness with Nick. In this interview, Yeoh told us about her character, working with co-star Golding and director Jon Chu, and the heart of the movie behind the sheen of material wealth.

inSing: How do you function in this heat without sweating buckets?

MICHELLE YEOH: There’s a crew behind us who runs around with fans [so] we don’t melt.

Throughout your career, you’ve worked with so many great directors. How does Jon Chu measure up?

Oh, wonderfully. I told him a couple of days ago, he reminds me of a young Ang Lee. The intensity, the way he works, the way he talks to himself, the way he visualises. He’s so hands-on. The way he runs around the set looking at all the details, I really enjoyed my experience working with Jon. He has been an absolute delight.

What was it like working with Henry Golding, see as it’s his first movie?

Fantastic. He’s like an old-timer. I’ve really, really enjoyed working with him. He’s very passionate, he’s very eager and he wants to do this well. I think if you ask anybody in the crew, they all adore him. Everyone wants to take him home to show their mother, and all the mothers want to take him home as their sons!

How do you approach a role like Eleanor?

It’s not difficult, because first of all, the book is there. I have a very close understanding with Jon, which is very important because as the director, he is really the soul of the film. We’ve done some major changes as well, we really worked on the relationship between the mother and son. I think this is very key for me as an actor, and key for the movie as well, otherwise what is it that holds all this craziness together? It’s that the mother would die for him. She would do anything for him – you know how Chinese mothers are. You know they would jump in front of a train for you. The thing is, we think that when we’re brought up in America, you’re like a banana. You’ve forgotten what it’s like to be respectful to your elders, you listen to them instead of just chasing your own dreams and things like that. In this movie, I think we approach this subject matter and deal with it accordingly. I think there’s no right or wrong, some of the old ways need to be changed, but I think with Eleanor, when I saw this, it was a very good opportunity. All the things you’ve heard about in the past, the Tiger Mom, the matriarch, the mother-in-law, even in the black-and-white movies – I think in this one, we try to break that cycle, if it’s possible at all.

Will this film dispel the myth of Crazy Rich Asians?

No! I hope it gives you a chance to laugh at them, and laugh with them. The thing is, we’re not trying to laugh at them, we’re trying to laugh with them. There’s nothing wrong with laughing at ourselves. I think we can take ourselves too seriously at times, that makes you miserable and makes the people around you miserable. Life is short, and can be very unpredictable, so if you don’t enjoy the moment you have, it’s a missed opportunity.

It’s there in the title, Crazy Rich Asians. How do you reconcile the materialism and the opulence with the heart?

I think there is always that balance. It doesn’t mean that if you can afford all these material things, you don’t have heart. When you are very rich, it’s how you spend the money. You can pamper yourself, but also be aware and compassionate to those around you who need it. Sometimes when you’re very young, and you have it, you haven’t got the sense of control or the sense of discipline yet, to understand what you can do. You think “me, my car, my plane, my ship, my my my my my!” I hope one day this person will have his eyes opened and be enlightened, or have a good mentor who can show him the right way.

How is this role different from the others in your career?

I hope that every time I come into a role, it is different, because otherwise, you just see Michelle Yeoh. When I get offered a role, I have to see “why am I doing this?” Do I love the script? Do I love the director? I don’t want to make a movie where you watch it and go “oh, that’s just Michelle Yeoh being Michelle Yeoh again”. It’s like when we designed for Eleanor, this is not what Michelle Yeoh would wear, this is not the kind of hairstyle I would have. My assistant went “you never wear that!” And I said “good, it’s not me in the movie!” You have to step into the roles of others, otherwise it will lose the fascination for me, and for the audience as well.

This film is seen as a very big step forward for the representation of Asian people in Hollywood? What do you see as the future for Asian actors in genre projects, stuff like Star Trek or Marvel?

I hope I have that magic ball to see! I think it’s very important that we keep pushing for these genre movies. It’s so rare, so few and [far] in between that we get [them]. We are such a big community. We have to be more united, to get out and push more of these projects out there. We have to create the box office, we have to create the marketplace. Just think about the African-Americans, and the Indians – they make these movies because there is an audience of it. If we Asians can stick together and demand more of these movies, then Crazy Rich Asians gets made.