“So many books, so little time.” — Frank Zappa
This past month, I’ve sort of been on a K-drama kick. Not only did I manage to find one I enjoyed on Netflix, I managed to find two! And this drama, Black, was definitely something else! It’s actually so unique from what I’ve seen thus far! Which, admittedly, isn’t much, but at least is something!
Basically, Black is about a girl named Ha-Ram Kang (played by Go A-Ra) who can see when people will die and a grim reaper named 444. According to the mythology of the show, when people die, their souls are collected by grim reapers. However, these grim reapers don’t just show up once the person dies — they actually shadow the person before their death (can be a few minutes or few hours). Although the reapers appear to have some sort of human form, normal humans can’t see them, or the souls of the people who died. However, Ha-Ram can. Ha-Ram has the ability to see these grim reapers — but she doesn’t see their human forms. Instead, Ha-Ram sees the grim reapers as black shadows. Hence, whenever a person is about to die and the grim reapers come to shadow that person, Ha-Ram is able to see a black shadow behind the person — which signifies to her that death is imminent for the person. On top of that, if she touches the shadow/ grim reaper, she can actually see the exact moment and way the person destined to die will die.
As Ha-Ram has had this ability since childhood, she’s always been very afraid of the shadows (no one else can see them except for her). Hence, whenever she saw them and pointed them out, others would laugh at her and think of her as crazy. In fact, some even called her misfortunate – saying that death followed her. As a result, to protect herself (as she fears the shadows), she tends to wear sunglasses everywhere. The dark lens of the sunglasses prevent her from being able to see the shadows. However, even this remedy is not enough as she isn’t always able to wear the glasses — i.e. at her job they tell her to take it off or she falls and they fall off. She thinks of her ability as bad luck, until a chance meeting with Detective Han Moo-Gang (played by Song Seung-Heon). Moo-Gang makes Ha-Ram realize that she could use her gift for good — she could prevent deaths before they occurred (i.e. touching the shadow, seeing how the person died, and then preventing that version of events from happening).
However, it turns out that Moo-Gang has some mysteries of his own. A former successful accountant in the States, Moo-Gang abruptly quit his job a few years ago, took the Korean police exam and passed to become a detective. However, the strange part is that Moo-Gang cannot even stand to look at dead bodies! In fact, he’s known for his weak stomach — as he ends up vomiting over the corpses whenever his team is called! Hence, he’s also looked down upon by his teammates and other police officers. Yet, despite this, he remains incredibly polite to them. However, we’re also given hints as to how everything is not alright with him. He has a secret basement room on his property that is locked shut and only opens with a scan of his eyeballs. He also mentions some work he must complete. In fact, his girlfriend, Soo- Wan (played by Lee El), is also low-key suspicious and worried because it doesn’t make sense how someone who is unable to look at dead bodies would try to become a detective.
While all of this is happening in the upperworld, we also go down to the underworld. I mentioned earlier that grim reapers shadowed people who were about to die. When the person died, the grim reaper would grab the soul of the dead person and lead them to the underworld — whether it be to heaven, hell, or to become a grim reaper. There are two types of grim reapers: those who are elite and born as reapers (aka their bodies have never been found) and those who committed suicide and are grim reapers due to punishment (who are also looked down upon). Each reaper is often given a partner with whom they go to collect souls. Once a partner learns enough of collecting souls, or when the partner’s body is finally found (if they are an elite reaper), or when a soul is finally able to pass, the partner’s change. Here, we’re introduced to one of the most cold hearted grim reapers, 444 (played by Kim Tae-Woo). 444 is known for his ruthlessness in collecting souls and his efficiency. He begins the series with one partner and changes to another one early on — as his previous partner’s soul moves on. The second partner (played by Park Doo-Sik) referred to as ‘loser,’ is an extremely inept grim reaper who feels sympathy for the recently deceased. Annoyed by him, 444 attempts to get rid of his partner by sabotaging him — that’s another thing: grim reapers can be sentenced to become dogs if they break rules, like run away or let souls run away. Knowing that his partner is not trained enough, 444 sends him on a soul retrieving mission on his own — banking on his partner losing the soul and thus becoming a dog, allowing 444 to get a new parter. However, the new partner takes advantage of his newfound freedom to enter into the dead body of another person — aka running away from his duties. It turns out that the older grim reapers are also responsible for mistakes rookies make, so when the loser runs away, 444 realizes its his head on the chopping table. Hence, he also escapes to the upperworld (he actually also has a valid reason as he’s been assigned a soul to collect) to catch the loser and bring him back for his punishment.
Through a series of events, Moo-Gang ends up getting shot and dying, with 444 taking over his body. 444 (now played by Song Seung-Heon) plans to use the human body to track down the body the loser is hiding in to bring him back. However, the problem is that 444 is unable to see if a human body is possessed by a grim reaper or not. Similarly, 444’s friends, grim reapers 007 (played by Jo Jae-Yoon) and 416 (played by Lee Kyu-Bok and Jung Jun-Won), tell him that for taking over a human’s body, the grim reaper leaders (Death Note) are also after him now. Finally, 444 also has to deal with Moo-Gang’s life. Although he is helped out a bit by the latter problem by claiming memory loss. Through a meeting with Ha-Ram, who he realizes can see shadows inside people too (i.e. grim reapers inside human bodies), he decides to utilize her eyes to find the loser and bring him back to the underworld to clear his name. However, to prevent Ha-Ram from seeing the shadow inside Moo-Gang’s body, 444 dresses in all black. Just like how the black sunglasses lens prevented Ha-Ram from seeing shadows, the black clothing did the same. Hence, the two join forces. However, Ha-Ram is still under the illusion that she’s working with Moo-Gang to save peoples lives, while 444 uses her for his own reasons.
Among this, we’re also introduced to Oh Man-Soo (played by Kim Dong-Jun). Man-Soo is the second son of a rich businessman. However, he is treated horribly by the family, especially his older half-brother Oh Man-Ho (played by Choi Min-Chul) who verbally and physically abuses him. Oh Chun-So, Man-Soo and Man-Ho’s father is bedridden and owns a number of companies under the name of “Royeol Group.” Among them, is an insurance company, Royeol Insurance, that is about to go bankrupt. In order to save himself and his family name, Man-Ho makes Man-Soo the chairman of the insurance company. Man-Ho intends to have Man-Soo run the failing company while he attempts to sell it to some Chinese investors. However, Man-Soo is unaware of this — at first. When he finds out, he tries his hardest to ensure that the company does not go down. To do so, he hired Ha-Ram. He too had witnessed Ha-Ram’s shadow seeing ability and unlike others, believed her completely. So he hires her to spy on his top clients to ensure that they will not die and get money from the insurance company — i.e. she stalks them to ensure that they have no black shadow. Ha-Ram isn’t happy to do this, but does so because she needs the money and because Man-Soo’s company holds some information pertinent to her father’s murder.
Are you still with me? Because the plot actually gets even more complicated and has more elements. There are various mysteries embedded in each episode and the show actually deals with a lot of dark themes. It touches upon issues like child sexual abuse, rape, abuse, prostitution, etc. On that note, it’s also quite a violent drama — with heavy focus given to murderers and quite a few scenes of people getting murdered. However, personally, I still quite enjoyed it. At its core, the show is a thriller. And as for the thrill, there is tons of suspense in each episode. Like I said earlier, new mysteries are always popping up and revealing themselves. In fact, there’s also a lot of red herrings to throw viewers off track, even though they seem connected. Speaking of that, I think the best thing about this show, aside from the acting, was the writing. Aside from the last episode, which I’ll talk about more later, the writing for this show was fantastic. Every scene and dialogue had a purpose. The writers did a fantastic job keeping the suspense and creating an interesting mystery, but also keeping a close reign on the mystery (at least until the end). Everything was seemingly connected and pleasantly enough, we were shown that too. What I mean by that, is that we got to see the two sides of scenes happening: those from the view of the past/ who actually experienced the scene and those from the view of the present/ Ha-Ram seeing the death or the brief flashbacks we’d get when the characters would be trying to solve a mystery. It was honestly fantastic and amazing.
However, it wasn’t just the story that was good, I’d have to give props to the acting and characters too. Major props go to Song Seung-Heon who played 444/Black/adult Moo-Gang. Seung-Heon was FANTASTIC and just so believable. If anything, I think he, at times, overshadowed Go A-Ra’s performance, who also put in a decent performance, but not to Seung-Heon’s level. I think props also need to be given to Lee El and Kim Dong-Jun, who played Yoon Soo-Wan and Oh Man-Soo respectively. In fact, the latter kind of felt like the dark house — the hero who wouldn’t get the girl or be the most respected person, but you would still root for him. I actually think his character and role was done the most dirty as we got no mentions of what he did after. It was disappointing.
Which brings me to my next points: the finale episode and the last 10 minutes. I heard somewhere that this show was only supposed to air for 16 episodes but ended up getting extended to 18 due to its popularity. I don’t know how true it is, but I’m inclined to think that it might be true, just because of the last minutes of the 18th episode which basically ruined the entire buildup of the show. Not only did it go contrary to the entire story we had been shown, but it also contradicted the mythology of the show and just didn’t make sense. To spoil you, basically 444 decides to get the ultimate punishment and remove himself from ever existing. Which okay fine — a sad ending would be sad but okay. But then Ha-Ram also decides to commit suicide because she finds out the truth of her shooting Joon. Which again, okay fine — a sad ending. But strangely enough, she asks to be reborn and commits suicide, but doesn’t end up as a grim reaper?!? The show took pains to establish that those who committed suicide become grim reapers — so why didn’t she? On top of that, 444 narrates that because he removed his existence, he was able to prevent her dad from dying and being the other 444, thereby resulting in Ha-Ram being born a normal girl with normal eyes that couldn’t see the grim reapers. Which — what?!? How?! Erasing his existence meant that 444 could go back in time? And what about Kim Sun-young? What happened to the entire tape dilemma? Did the criminals get their comeuppance? Does this mean that Crazy Dog never died? What about all those moments where Joon played an important role? On top of that, we see Ha-Ram live a normal life, becoming a paramedic and saving people and receiving awards from the President. And then we see her as an old woman, friends with Leo (played by Kim Jae-Young — sidenote, his acting was decent too). However, this scene is also marred by the fact that the makeup used to make the actors look older is ATROCIOUS. Seriously, it’s pretty bad. But anyways, in their old age, Leo tells the story of 444 falling in love with a human woman (aka to Ha-Ram) who ends up forgetting about him as he erases his existence. But then when Ha-Ram dies, it’s 444 who comes to pick up her soul and the two walk together into the afterlife or whatever. Like what?!?! The last 10 minutes literally go against everything we’re told?
I honestly think that had those last 10 minutes never been shown, this show would firmly be cemented as being one of the best K-drama’s I’ve ever seen. In fact, my whole family get low-key interested in the drama because it was that amazing. That said, it’s also worth pointing out that there were definitely a few continuity issues present as well. One that comes to mind is the Leo reveal. We’re shown that Leo died much earlier and that the current Leo in the show is actually the loser 444’s been looking for. Which is fine and makes sense. However, as this means that Leo is effectively a grim reaper within a human body, Ha-Ram should’ve seen a shadow inside his body whenever he was near. And there’s actually quite a few instances where the two interact and Leo’s even wearing non-black clothing; yet Ha-Ram never notices. Similarly, I didn’t like the characters of 007 and 416. They were supposed to be the comic relief I guess, but I just found them so annoying. And of course, there’s no point in mentioning the horrible ending.
My rating: Go watch this show for a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat until the end and be prepared to have every one of your guesses fail (well maybe not all, but at least some)!
I’m baaaack! Well temporarily for now, but back nonetheless. To kickoff my return, let’s dive straight into a review. Today I’ll be discussing the 2017 Wonder Woman movie. Here’s the thing, I know it came out a few months ago. But I’ve already reviewed even older things on this blog, so why not this movie.
With that said, for those unaware, Wonder Woman is a movie about the comic book hero Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince. If you’ve been on this blog before, then you probably know that growing up, I was a big comic book fan. So I was already familiar with Wonder Woman. While she wasn’t my favourite superhero, I did always have a soft spot for her. It always felt really nice to be able to look up at a girl comic book hero who actually had powers of her own accord. There’s nearly not enough representation of strong women with powers in media. But I digress, let’s get into the movie.
I was actually really excited to see this movie because it was directed by a woman, Patty Jenkins. However, at the same time, my expectations weren’t that high. Wonder Woman often had the tendency to be sexualized and as a young girl, it wasn’t something I was super fond of. I mean her outfit itself speaks to this. But I figured that since a woman was directing it, this element wouldn’t be as noticeable. And to my great delight, I was right!
Basically, the movie sort of functions as an origin series/ introduction to Wonder Woman. The daughter of Greek God Zeus and Hippolyta (played by Connie Neilsen), young Diana (wonder woman), grows up on the all-women island of Themyscira with the Amazons. The Amazons, it is explained, were originally created to protect man-kind. When one of Zeus’s children, Ares, the God of War, got jealous of humankind, he tried to destroy them. The Greek Gods and Amazons all fought back against Ares. Ares managed to kill all of them, except Zeus, who managed in his dying moments to defeat him and gave the Amazons their island and a secret ‘God-Killer.” The idea was that Ares would return to destroy mankind against one day and only the “God-killer” could destroy him. Diana sees this “God-killer” sword and hears of this story and becomes determined to train, to be able to defeat Ares when he returns. Although her mother objects at first, she is eventually won over by her sister, Antiope (played by Robin Wright) and Diana commences her training.
Meanwhile, on the run from Nazi’s, UK WWII spy Steve Trevor (played by Chris Pine), manages to somehow break into Themyscira. Diana, now an adult (played by Gal Gadot), rescues him. However, Steve also inadvertently leads the Nazi’s to Themyscira and a battle between begins between them and the Amazons. Of course the Amazon’s end up winning, but at the cost of Antiope and other Amazon’s deaths. After the battle ends, Steve fills in Diana and the others of WWII. Diana is incredibly surprised at this (the Amazons were isolated from the rest of the world) and convinced that Ares is behind it. Hence, she grabs the “God-Killer,” determined to defeat Ares and end WWII and escapes with Steve to meet the rest of mankind.
The rest of the film deals with her adventures in meeting and discovering the rest of man-kind and her journey to deal with Ares.
There were a number of things I liked about this film. First off, the costumes for the Amazons. One of my biggest issues with Wonder Woman has always been her costume — it reveals far too much skin and seems so impractical to move in. In other words, it’s incredibly unrealistic. However, the movie sort of rectifies this. While the costumes still show skin, they also seemed a lot more sturdy. Plus the costumes didn’t really function as the main point of scenes. In other words, when the Amazon’s did their stunts, the costumes didn’t distract the viewer from seeing their amazing fighting abilities. A thing I’m sure had to do with the fact that a woman directed the movie.
Secondly, I really liked how it was so obvious that Diana was the hero in this film. She had the cool powers, she did the amazing stunts and she ended up saving the world. I don’t know, I just thought it was so cool how it was so in-your-face that Diana was the hero. She was the main star and main lead. Maybe I’ve been watching too many male-oriented films or I need to watch different movies, but I’ve become so used to seeing men as the heros of films with the women relegated to being the side characters. But in this movie, Wonder Woman was front and centre with Steve being her supporting side character. It was a nice change and felt good to see.
Which brings me to the acting. When Gal Gadot was initially announced as Wonder Woman, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it. I had only seen her in the previous Fast and Furious movies and her small cameo in Batman vs. Superman. She was pretty enough but I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about her as Wonder Woman. However, she completely won me over. Gal was so incredibly charming. She imbued within Wonder Woman the right amount of innocence and determination. It was just so easy to root for her and like her. Same with Chris Pine as Steve Trevor. However, that was to be expected. For some reason, I always end up adoring Chris Pine in whatever character he does, even if I don’t want to. I remember hating the idea of his character in Princess Diaries 2 (because I was a devout lover of those books) but then being completely on-board with him later on. The exact same thing happened with him as as James Kirk in Star Trek. Even in The Finest Hours, while I found his character a little annoying, I couldn’t help but be charmed by him. There’s just something about him that gets me every time and this time was no exception. However, I was surprised by how much I liked Robin Wright. I generally have tended to not like her — I think it’s a side effect of being introduced to her in The Princess Bride where her character was unlikeable. However, I really enjoyed her as Antiope. Plus her fighting scenes were incredible!
Which on that note, is another thumbs up. The fighting scenes in this movie were incredible — especially the ones with the Amazons. There was no random focusing on the women’s bodies as they fought or anything. It was just pure fighting without any sort of sexual element and it was fantastic! I loved watching those scenes so much!
However, there were also things I didn’t like about the movie, namely the 3rd part of it. Prior to watching, I had read a lot of reviews that said that the 3rd act of the movie brought it down. However, I figured that those comments were just by non-fans or people who love to criticize popular things and/or subject to a bandwagon effect. Unfortunately, I was wrong. The 3rd act was really weird and did bring down the whole movie. While I can sort of forgive the Ares cop-out, the entire battle between Ares and Diana was so weird. Just stuff flying around? And some hand to hand combat? But more flying? I don’t know what I expected, but it really wasn’t that. Plus, Steve’s sacrifice at the end was so horrible! It basically ruined my mood. In general, there was just so much happening in the 3rd act that it got a little hard to focus. It definitely ended up bringing down the movie a lot.
My rating: Watch it to enjoy another comic book hero origin stories, or to see Chris Pine charm the socks off you but don’t expect to be completely thrilled.
Hello, just wanted to leave a quick note to let you know all know that this blog will be going on a hiatus. I shall (hopefully) return in 4 months. Until then, au revoir!
“A book is a dream you hold in your hand.” — Neil Gaiman
“There will always be story-telling, whether it’s on the big silver screen, or it’s your television or whatever, people will keep on telling stories.” — Stellan Skarsgard
When I was growing up, superhero films weren’t really a big thing. Superheros mostly existed on tv shows or within comics. Other than the iconic Superman movies starring Christopher Reeve, I don’t really remember seeing any other big superhero films. However, this changed with the advent of the 2002 Spider- Man movie starring Tobey Maguire. As a kid, it was a formative movie and changed my life in two ways: 1. It kickstarted my interest in comics and 2. It caused me to form a soft spot for spiderman. With hindsight, I recognize that the movie had some faults (it’s so over the top and the MJ storyline is weird), but I still think it’s a fantastic adaption. It just has so much heart. So when the 2012 movie came out, I was game. It was a good adaption, and I particularly liked the direction the director/writers went with Peter’s character. However, I felt that Andrew Garfield looked a bit too old and I didn’t feel “wowed” by it, like I was by the 2002 movie. Similarly, when Spider-Man:Homecoming was announced, with Tom Holland as Spiderman, thereby making Spiderman younger (his actual age in the comics initially), I was intrigued as well. I watched the movie last weekend and I gotta say, I was quite impressed and felt a review was due.
Unlike the previous spiderman movies, this one doesn’t really go into Spiderman’s origin story. There’s no big spider-biting-Peter scene or anything. Instead, the movie picks up near the ending scene of Captain America: Civil War. We don’t really see the fight scene again; rather we see Peter’s reactions as he is first taken to Germany, his feelings before the fight, his journey home, etc. (Peter makes a sort of home movie LOL). Afterwards, Peter neglects school in an attempt to be a superhero — moonlighting as a vigilante. It it through his vigilantism that he first notices the activity of the Vulture and his team, who use leftover Chitauri technology to create insane guns to sell to people. He attempts to tell Tony Stark, but Stark brushes him off. So spiderman then attempts to fight Vulture’s sidekicks, but ends up almost drowning until the spiderman suit Stark gave him saves him. Tony warns Peter to stop moonlighting as a vigilante and start acting like the high school student he is. Of course Peter ignores him and continues on. The rest of the movie deals with the Vulture conflict.
Here’s the thing, this movie is very different from its predecessors (can you even call them that?). Firstly, as mentioned, there’s no mention of spiderman’s transformation (aside from when Ned asks and Peter quickly explains). Secondly, there’s a few pivotal spiderman characters missing — namely Harry Osborn and Mary Jane. There do exist some characters who occupy their roles (i.e. Peter’s best friend and love interest), but they don’t have their typical characterization. For example, Ned (played by Jacob Batalan), who is Peter’s best friend, isn’t some super rich dude and instead is incredibly smart — functioning as Peter’s “guy in the chair”. Similarly, MJ’s character is taken for an entirely new spin with Zendaya playing Michelle Jones (MJ), an observant, activist, unpopular smart girl. On the same note, some of the characteristics for other known characters change, such as Flash. Instead of being the physical bully, Flash Thompson (played by Tony Revolori), is a social-media bully, who bullies Peter for being a dork/ nerd and shows off his wealth.
Which brings me to another point — how relatable the movie felt. Of course superheros don’t exist and genetically modified spiders don’t go around biting people and changing them. However, there was an element of realness in the movie. It was present in the humor — the jokes the characters would make and the things they would talk about (i.e. Peter and Ned were really into Star Wars and superheros). It was present in the characterizations of the characters — a social media bully is far more likely and actually prevalent today than a physical bully, plus it’s easy to imagine activist and “woke” girls like MJ existing. It was present in the diversity among the cast — where white people mixed with black people and spanish people and asian people. It looked and felt like a real high school.
On that note, the acting was pretty good in this movie as well. Tom Holland was pretty good in making spiderman likeable. The supporting cast, Jacob Batalan, Tony Revolori, Zendaya and Marisa Tomei as Aunt May, were great as well. However, the stand out actor for me in this movie, was probably Michael Keaton. Fair warning, I might be a little biased when it comes to Michael Keaton because his Batman movies are among my favourites. However, he was just fantastic in this role. Here’s the thing, you know that spiderman isn’t going to die in any movie adaption — it just doesn’t happen. So the threat of anything very serious (like death) happening to spiderman isn’t really real. Yet, when Michael Keaton was onscreen, particularly in the car scene where he realized that Peter was Spiderman, you felt real terror for Peter. You, as the audience, were terrified for Peter, despite knowing that nothing absolutely terrible would happen to him. This was because Michael Keaton was able to imbue his character with a menacing nature that genuinely terrified. Plus, his character was also understandable, to an extent. When Adrian Tooms/ Vulture talked about how the rich only get richer or about how poor people always suffer, you could see his point. He wasn’t some two dimension villain (which by the way, are totally fine as well), despite the fact that he was indeed a killer. To me, that’s the mark of a fantastic actor — one who makes you forget the constrains of the script.
Speaking of which, I actually liked the small community aspect of this movie. Not only did it speak to spiderman literally being the “friendly neighbourhood spiderman,” but it was also a good break from the big Marvel superhero movies. There were no high stakes, or too many characters crowding out the scenes. It was literally just spiderman and his problems, which included navigating through being a student and a hero, dealing with a criminal, and learning to be spiderman. Of course there were a few scenes with Tony Stark, but mercifully, they were limited so the viewer did not get the chance to tire of Stark.
All that said, there were some negatives for the movie as well. One that particularly stood out to me, was the emotional aspect. While the movie was relatable and funny, its emotional scenes did not have the impact I suspect the director wanted. For example, there’s a scene where Peter is crushed by steel beams and attempting to save himself without the spiderman suit Tony Stark gave him. Peter cries, yells for help until ultimately taking all of strength and belief in self to rescue himself (there’s this cool shot of Peter’s face mixed with the reflection of the spiderman mask in a pool of water). It’s supposed to be a big moment — the moment where Peter realizes that he’s not just “a guy in a suit” (LOL). However, it didn’t feel like that. It just felt like any other sort of scene — the heart was missing. Similarly, the acting/ storylines were a bit uninspiring at times. For example, Laura Harrier as Liz Allen was just so boring. It made no sense why she liked Peter plus Harrier’s acting left a lot to be desired. Additionally, I’m not quite sure what the makers plan to do with MJ’s storyline. I’m wary that they’ll pull the whole geeky-girl-transforms-into-beauty with her. However, this is speculation on my part so not a real negative. Yet, even with the real negatives, the positives for the film completely outweigh them.
My rating: watch it to enjoy a fun summer movie about spiderman and high school kids.
“It’s not what a movie is about, it’s about how it is.” —- Roger Ebert
I really enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians and its cliffhanger left me desperate to get my hands on this sequel. Thinking back on it, I might have gone into the sequel with too high expectations. Or maybe I just got bored of the characters. Whatever the reason, what I’m trying to say is that I didn’t enjoy China Rich Girlfriend as much as I hoped I would.
In short, the book picks up two years after the first one. Nick and Rachel have reunited and Nick has stopped all contact with his family after the way they treated Rachel. Things have progressed to the point of marriage. However, despite these changes, Rachel still hasn’t been able to locate her birth-father as he apparently changed his name when he was younger. Through luck and Eleanor Young’s intervention, Rachel’s father’s identity is revealed (turns out that he’s super rich too) and he attends her wedding. He invites an excited Rachel and Nick to join him in Shanghai, China with the rest of his family. He has a son named Carlton, who’s described as being the Asian Prince Harry and a PhD educated wife, Shaoyen. However, once Rachel lands in Shanghai, her father begins to distance himself and she never manages to set foot into his house. She does manage to create some sort of bond with her half-brother Carlton, through the help of Carlton’s lady friend, Collette, whose father is apparently the 5th or 3rd riches man in China. A lot of other stuff happens, but the ending essentially is a happy ending. At least for Rachel and Nick it is.
As with Crazy Rich Asians, this book also shares different POVs and sticks with the main characters of Rachel, Nick, Astrid, Eleanor, and Eddie. However, to my dismay, Eleanor’s part in this book diminishes quite a bit and she gets overtaken by another character, the former soap actor turned rich wife, Kitty Pong. Kitty was actually introduced in the previous book as the gold-digging and tacky girlfriend of Nick’s cousin and Eddie’s brother, Alistair. Through the machinations of Nick’s aunts and cousin Oliver, Kitty broke up with Alistair and ended up dating Bernard Tai, another member of the Singaporean Elite, albeit more trashier and brash than the others. However, what is interesting about Kitty’s story in this book, is that her POV doesn’t feature very heavily. Rather, her story is told by others around her.
On this topic, I’ll do a recap of the stories besides Rachel and Nick. On Astrid’s side, it turned out that Michael’s investment firm made a lot of money, thereby propelling Michael into being super rich. However, his new riches have also changed Michael from being a loving husband, to being a materialistic, money-obsessed man who only cares about how Astrid’s looks can benefit him. In fact, their relationship takes on an abusive tone, until Astrid decides to leave him (not without its own difficulties though). Coming to Eleanor, I’ve already mentioned how her part in this novel was quite small and barring a few scenes where she ponders Rachel’s newfound parentage, she doesn’t feature much. Eddie has also changed, becoming less crazy, although still very much money obsessed. Finally, Kitty’s story is unique. Turns out, after getting some plastic surgery and having a daughter, Bernard did a complete turn around; from being a playboy intent on blowing his father’s money, to becoming an over-protective, uptight dad who controlled his daughter’s life very carefully; including making sure that she never played with plastic toys or ate non-organic food. With her husband and daughter in America, Kitty attempts to make her place with the Hong Kong Elite, failing miserably until she decides to give up, take her daughter back, and move to Singapore to become a part of the Elite there.
As with the previous book, we get alternating POVs from other characters as well, including Astrid’s husband, Rachel’s father Gaoliang, Carlton, etc. However, unlike the previous book wherein the musings of varied characters were often focused upon the main characters, the musings here were not as strictly managed. In other words, the characters mused about their life often too. For example, we got quite a few scenes and chapters devoted to Collette and her relationship with Carlton and her parents. That said, these scenes did technically manage to connect back to the main characters eventually (very much eventually).
That brings me to the plot. Despite my feelings toward the book, on a technical level, this book is more advanced that its predecessor. The plot is more complicated than that of the last books and it’s also more fleshed out. You can tell that Kevin Kwan has gotten more comfortable with writing — as the book felt a lot less clunkier than the original. However, there’s still A LOT of description in the book. I think that’s actually one of my main contentions with this book. In Crazy Rich Asians, the description was annoying, but also served to show you just how crazy rich the people were. However, in this book, you already know that these people are/ will be crazy rich, so the description doesn’t feel as necessary to the plot here. There as nothing new to glean from it, so it became annoying and boring very fast.
Similarly, I actually found this book to be less funnier than the original. I mean, it was funny and a great look at China’s development, but at the same time, it didn’t feel or read as funny as the first book. I think in part because of how much the description overwhelming bored the reader (or at least me). Secondly, the new characters introduced in the book didn’t grab me. In particular, I found Collette very strange and annoying and couldn’t connect to her at all. Additionally, on the topic of China’s development, I would’ve liked to see more commentary on China’s history. In particular, the strict adherence to communism and its changing nature. It just felt like the culture connection was missing here — unlike in Crazy Rich Asians. However, thinking back on it, I think it might also have to do with the fact that Crazy Rich Asians was, in part, based heavily on Kevin Kwan’s experiences. As such, the thoroughly embedded showings of Singaporean culture in Crazy Rich Asians was probably due to the fact that he lived it. Similarly, the lack of Chinese history and culture in this book might have to do with the fact that Kevin Kwan never really experienced it. Either way, I missed it.
Plus, there were some vital scenes missing that I would’ve liked to see. For example, one of the main issues in this book, is the fact that Shaoyen has a hard time accepting the fact that Rachel exists and she might take some of Carlton’s inheritance. However, she comes around eventually — but there’s only one chapter showing this. Besides that one chapter, which comes at the conclusion of the book by the way, there’s no other interactions between the two; which sucked because I really wanted to see their interactions and read their POVs. It just felt like a rip-off for the reader.
Yet, all that said, it’s still a decent enough book. It might fall short of its predecessor, but it’s still a nice, light enough entertaining read.
My rating: read it to continue the Crazy Rich Asians adventure and for a light, funny time pass read!
I had been itching to read this book since it first debuted in 2013. However, the itch was manageable, until I heard about the movie adaptation and the cast that was selected. I LOVE Gemma Chan and Constance Wu and really like Michelle Yeoh. When their casting was confirmed, I decided I couldn’t wait anymore and quickly conspired to get my hands on this book!
Fair warning here — I think my reaction to the book is heavily biased by the actors casted for the movie adaptation. During my read, I kept on picturing the actors as the characters, which obviously made me like the characters far more that I might have otherwise. Secondly, I’ve talked before about how diversity is important to me, and this book is great on that front! Not only is it written by an Asian, Kevin Kwan, but it mostly features Asian characters in an international setting. On top of that, I think this movie might be one of the first to feature an entirely Asian cast in a Hollywood feature. It just feels so amazing to me and I’m so incredibly excited! As a result, I think my perception of the book is higher than it might be otherwise as well — because I want the book and movie to do well, so I see it in a good light. Of course, this is speculation on my part that I cannot confirm as I am obviously a subjective individual. Anyways, let’s move onto the review now.
Basically, Crazy Rich Asians is about two main characters: NYU’s Economics Professor Rachel Chu, and her NYU History Professor boyfriend, Nick Young. Rachel and Nick come across as any other young couple in love, and that’s what Rachel thinks. However, it turns out that Nick is actually filthy rich — his family is one of the richest in Singapore, tracing their riches and genealogy from several hundred years ago. Nick doesn’t tell Rachel any of this, as he was brought up to never talk about his family’s wealth. As a result, Rachel only finds out when Nick invites Rachel to spend the summer with him in Singapore, as he performs as the best man in his best friend, Colin Khoo’s, wedding. Colin Khoo, it turns out, also belongs among the Singaporean Elite and his wedding to model Araminta Lee (another part of the Elite), is actually the talk of the year in Singapore! Rachel only finds this out when she actually goes to Singapore and her Singaporean best friend from college, Peik Lin, reveals this to her.
On top of dealing with the crazily rich, Rachel also faces resistance and sees first-hand (although she doesn’t always understand them), the politics in Nick’s family and their mixed reaction to her. The Singaporean Elite, it turns out, are obsessed with genealogy, and Rachel, being the daughter of a poor single mother from Mainland China, doesn’t pass their test. However, the younger squad, Nick, his beautiful cousin Astrid, his other cousins, Colin and Araminta all like Rachel enough — it’s their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers who are opposed to Rachel. On top of facing resistance from them, Rachel also faces bullying from Singaporean socialites who are jealous that she managed to land Nick.
The plot of the book is very simple. I’ve outlined most of it above — Rachel and Nick journey to Singapore, she meets his family, they are cold to her. Nick thinks its a success while Rachel is unsure. They both go to bachelor/bachelorette parties where they deal with their own issues — Rachel gets bullied really badly by the other bridesmaids as they are determined to break up her and Nick. Things continue to spiral, until eventually, Rachel and Nick break up because of his mother’s meddling. However, this is only the plot of Rachel and Nick’s story.
The book actually has around five main characters: Rachel, Nick, Nick’s beautiful cousin Astrid, Nick’s mother Eleanor, and Nick’s money obsessed cousin Eddie. Although all characters have scenes together, their separate stories also differ a bit. Astrid’s story deals with her marriage to middle-class army man turned businessman Michael Teo. Michael obviously doesn’t match up to Astrid’s family (her being super rich as well), but he works day and night and the two really love each other. At least that’s what Astrid thinks, until she starts suspecting that he’s having an affair. Things escalate to the point of Michael asking her for a divorce. However, it’s only through the intervention of Astrid’s ex-boyfriend, super-rich tech guru Charlie Wu, that their misunderstandings are cleared (there was no affair) and they reconcile. Sidenote — despite being super-rich himself, Astrid’s family also disapproved of her relationship with Charlie because his background wasn’t filled with riches — he was a new generation (?) rich person, thus pointing to their obsession with lineage. Eleanor’s POV actually provides a good example of this. Eleanor’s story mainly deals with her attempts at figuring out the relationship between her son and Rachel, ensuring that Nick stands to inherit most of his grandmother’s money, and trying to break up his relationship. Finally, Eddie’s story just deals with his anxiety at trying to impress the public with his riches and his anger at his family for being so cheap (in terms of spending their money).
However, it’s also interesting to note that the book doesn’t just deal with the POVs of the five main characters. Other characters POVs pop up often as well. For example, we got little insights in characters like Nick’s dad, Charlie Wu, Peik-Lin’s dad Wye-Mun, Eddie’s mother, etc. However, their insights typically relate to the five main characters, vs. their own problems. I actually thought this was quite smart of the author to do, because it makes the book more focused and easier to understand. Your attention remains cemented on thoughts of the main characters, vs. getting jumbled into the various lives of various characters.
On that note, let’s talk about some of the technical aspects of the book, namely the writing. Here’s the thing, the writing is nothing special. It doesn’t consist of fantastic pieces of prose or flowery writing. In fact, some of the dialogue felt clunky at times — meaning that you felt like the dialogue was specifically meant to be written vs. a character was actually saying it. However, what the book does have, is copious, and I mean copious amounts of description. Kevin Kwan has the tendency to go overboard when it comes to descriptions. He describes every single little detail. For example, when entering Peik-Lin’s house, he uses almost an entire page to describe the Versailles inspiring living room in their home. Additionally, this description isn’t just done for surrounding scenery, it’s done for everything; from the food the characters eat, to the clothes they wear, to the sights they see. To be honest, it does get a little annoying to read extensive descriptions because it sometimes feels never-ending. However, at the same time, I actually kind of enjoyed it. The sheer amount of imagery it conjures is ridiculous. Not to mention that the descriptions of the stuff itself are absurd in themselves. It really highlights just how crazy rich these people are.
Which brings me to another facet of the book – its humour. The book is incredibly funny. It’s not funny in the sense that it has many jokes or anything, but it’s funny in the characters it has. They all, aside from the some of the main ones, shamelessly gossip, backbite, and plot against others. It’s absurd, but also super funny! It’s downright ridiculous the way some of them act — but at the same time, it’s so entertaining to read! For example, during Araminta’s wedding day, as she was walking down the isle, all she could think of, was how Astrid couldn’t even be bothered to wear a new dress to her wedding. Of course my relaying of this scene completely downplays just how hilarious it was in the book. Plus, I also really enjoyed the culture showcased throughout the book. We get little hints as to what Singaporean culture consists of — apparently food is a hot topic, the word “lah” is used very often, and there is some casual racism involved towards Mainland Chinese people. We also get little scenes of old Chinese traditions. It’s fascinating to read! Additionally, the characters themselves are also interesting and cool — Astrid being one.
Yet, for all of its hilarious triumphs, the book does have its faults. For one thing, in terms of plot, there’s not a whole lot that really happens. It’s fairly predictable and things don’t always get resolved. Secondly, the reader doesn’t really build a deep connection with the characters. Their motivations aren’t always clear and they aren’t always very interesting. For example, I personally had a tough time with Nick sometimes, just because he could be so oblivious. Finally, the descriptions could get too much. At times, it felt like the descriptions were there to show off to the reader the characters wealth, vs. describe it to them (if that makes any sense).
My rating: read it to enjoy a fantastically hilarious book about the lives of the crazy rich asians (in Singapore)!