Home > Reviews > CRAZY RICH ASIANS – Brian Tyler

CRAZY RICH ASIANS – Brian Tyler

Original Review by Jonathan Broxton

In 1993 director Wayne Wang’s film The Joy Luck Club, based on the popular novel by Amy Tan, was released in cinemas. It was a groundbreaking film as it was one of the first mainstream American films to feature an almost exclusively East Asian cast – mostly from China, Japan, Macau, and Vietnam – and at the time it was a seen as a major step forward for Asian-American cinema. It has taken until this year, 25 years later, for this feat to be repeated, with the release of Crazy Rich Asians, directed by Jon Chu from the best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan. The film is a fairly conventional romantic comedy-drama which stars Constance Wu as Rachel, an economics professor living in New York with a handsome long-term boyfriend named Nick (Henry Golding). Nick is invited to a family wedding back home in Singapore, and asks Rachel to go with him; to her shock and amazement, she discovers that Nick comes from an immensely wealthy family of real estate developers. Overwhelmed by her new surroundings, and the revelations about Nick’s family, she immediately embarrasses herself in front of Nick’s domineering mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh), and sets off a chain of events which threatens to derail her relationship forever.

The impact of Crazy Rich Asians has been almost universally positive – Asian-American culture has been overlooked or marginalized in Hollywood for a generation, and many people are looking to this film as something of a watershed moment for the cinematic representation of contemporary East Asian culture. There has been a small amount of negative feedback over the point that Henry Golding is Malaysian, and co-stars Awkwafina and Nick Santos are Korean and Filipino, respectively, and the fact that they are playing ethnic Chinese characters shows that Hollywood still has trouble with the cultural and ethnic differences between the East Asian nations, but this is a small issue when compares to the upbeat, wholesome, and positive tone of the film itself.

The score for Crazy Rich Asians is by Brian Tyler, who worked with director Chu on his previous film Now You See Me 2. While he has scored films that have certainly been light-hearted, it’s been quite some time since Tyler has worked on a film with a predominantly comedic tone – as far as I can tell the last one was the little-seen comedy-horror John Dies At The End in 2012 – while the last film of his that was a straight romance could be Partition from 2007, which told the story of a Sikh man and a Muslim woman whose love affair was shattered by the 1947 partition of India. The point I’m making is that while Tyler often scores music for the brain and the bicep, he doesn’t get the chance to put his music towards the heart or the funny bone too often, which is why scores like Crazy Rich Asians need to be embraced. It’s an entirely different side to Tyler, and it’s fantastic.

Tyler’s approach to the score is to write music in two very different styles. The first is lush, sweeping, romantic orchestral scoring for the central romance between Rachel and Nick; the second is to accompany the comedy and misadventure of Rachel’s experiences amongst the mean girls of Singapore with rowdy, rousing big band jazz. These ideas are best explored in the album’s first two cues, “Crazy Rich Asians Love Theme,” and “Text Ting Swing.” The “Crazy Rich Asians Love Theme” is the emotional heart of the score, and it’s one of the loveliest pieces Tyler has written in his career to date, a sweet, charming, fulfilling orchestral piece with a tender central melody that moves from graceful strings to elegant flutes, backed with harp glissandi and warm, endearing brass accents. The melody has some vague similarities to John Powell’s theme from the animated film Bolt, but it’s all very superficial, and I’m only really mentioning it to give people a slight frame of reference.

The “Text Ting Swing,” however, is something that’s completely new in terms of the Tyler canon to date: a bold, brash, finger-snapping toe-tapping jazz piece for an extended combo featuring a full string section, drum kit, Hammond organ and vibraphone, stand-up bass, and banks of wonderful rip-roaring brass, including notable solo performances for saxophone and trumpet. The whole thing feels like a piece that would have been played at Los Angeles’s famed Coco Bongo or Cocoanut Grove nightclubs circa 1940, with zoot-suited guys and dressed up dolls jitterbugging until the wee hours. Stylistically it’s a combination of Raymond Scott, Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, Henry Mancini, and even a bit of Christopher Young’s comedy jazz scores like The Man Who Knew Too Little, and it’s completely infectious.

Pretty much everything thereafter takes its inspiration from these two cues. The main romantic theme follows the highs and lows of Rachel’s experience, commenting on her first impressions of Nick’s life in Singapore and the inevitable subsequent ups and downs, adding a level of drama and pathos to the traditional rom-com breakup, and building to a crescendo as the lovers reconcile. Highlight cues include “Approaching the Palace,” where the theme is heard on soft horns and pianos, but has a sense of trepidation in the strings to counterbalance the music’s regal, epic sweep; later, in “Astrid and the Earrings,” the music has a fairytale sound filled with pianos, harps, and flutes, which add a sense of magic and wonderment. “Arrival in Singapore” presents the theme in a more upbeat version, filled with effervescent prancing strings, and with a slight Asian tinge to the orchestrations by way of an erhu buried in the mix.

Cues like “Rachel’s Story,” “Choices,” “We’ll Get Through It Together,” “Astrid and Rachel,” and “Family First” are more serious, offering moments of tension and drama, a little moodiness, but still plenty of gentle sentimentality, as Rachel navigates her way through Nick’s past, interacting with old flames and family members. “Parallel Decisions” is interesting in this regard as it is one of the few cues where Tyler injects a contemporary kick into the music, using synths and subtle electric guitar, as well as some more rhythmically intense metallic percussion, to capture distressed Rachel’s state of mind. In addition, both “Solitude” and “Without Reservation” have a definite Thomas Newman vibe to them that is quite gorgeous; listen especially to the phrasing in the strings in the former cue, and the way Tyler uses his piano in combination with lush oboe writing in the latter. The conclusive pair, “Running Away” and “Because of Me,” are the emotional high points of the score; the first of these cues drips with poignancy, while the latter features emotional piano and string writing, Asian woodwinds, and a moving and tender statement of the main theme, before building to a big finale.

The rest of the score is inspired by Tyler’s jazz but, to give him credit, he does a lot more than simply revisit the main Text Ting piece over and over; instead, he focuses on and spotlights numerous different solo instruments, allowing them to shine, and subtly shifts tempos and arrangements to give the pieces different feels. “Astrid,” for example, is a little more languid, but still effortlessly cool, and features an extended improv sequence that jumps between saxophones and trumpets, backed by strings, bass, voices, jazz flute, and a drum kit, and which builds to a raucous finale. “Rainy Nights in London” is in the softer, more intimate band style, a cheek-to-cheek dance for strings and muted brass, snares and piano. “Shopping Spree” is more aggressive and urgent, with a 1970s Lalo Schifrin vibe in the wailing brasses and jazz flutes, and hints of a drumline in the clattering percussion.

Later, “Hide the Jimmy Choos” again features jazz flutes and saxophones, and comes across as being a bit sexy and sultry, but in its second half it develops an abstract, ethereal sound with woodwinds, chimes, and bells, that is as interesting as it is unexpected. “Cousin Eddie and Cousin Alistair” is frothy and upbeat and a bit schizophrenic, beginning with the classic Hollywood shimmering strings, turning into a mambo in its second half, and finishing with a 20-second Chinese action cue! Finally, “Jubilee Bop” reprises the Text Ting theme with all the free-wheeling energy it can muster, ending the album on a vigorous high.

Anyone whose experience of Brian Tyler has been through his action and super hero scores may come out of Crazy Rich Asians wondering what the hell they have just listened to. It’s so far removed from what we have come to know as the stereotypical Brian Tyler style – roaring, soaring heroic themes and bombast. But, for me, this is what makes Crazy Rich Asians so great: hearing Brian Tyler write music like this is a shot in the arm, and is a timely reminder that there is much, much more to him than the Fast and the Furious, Iron Man, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, as great as all those scores are. His emotional romantic scoring is just as moving, and his effervescent big band jazz is just as authentic, as anyone else in the business, and I for one would be delighted if he was able to showcase this side of his musical personality much more regularly.

Buy the Crazy Rich Asians soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Crazy Rich Asians: Love Theme (2:52)
  • Text Ting Swing (3:53)
  • Approaching the Palace (1:44)
  • Astrid (5:17)
  • Solitude (2:26)
  • Astrid and the Earrings (1:42)
  • Arrival in Singapore (2:35)
  • Rainy Nights in London (2:46)
  • Rachel’s Story (2:31)
  • Shopping Spree (1:38)
  • First Class (1:04)
  • Hide the Jimmy Choos (2:53)
  • Cousin Eddie and Cousin Alistair (1:19)
  • Choices (3:34)
  • We’ll Get Through It Together (3:08)
  • Astrid and Rachel (1:31)
  • Without Reservation (2:40)
  • Family First (1:57)
  • Lost in the Jungle (0:49)
  • Lunch on the Goh (3:17)
  • Parallel Decisions (4:36)
  • Running Away (2:19)
  • Because of Me (3:09)
  • Jubilee Bop (3:59)

Running Time: 63 minutes 52 seconds

Watertower Music (2018)

Music composed and conducted by Brian Tyler. Orchestrations by Jay Gruska. Jazz arrangements by John Carey, Evan Duffy, Chris Forsgren, Max Lombardo and Breton Vivian. Recorded and mixed by Tommy Vicari and Greg Hayes. Edited by Joe Lisanti, Erich Stratmann and Kyle Clausen. Album produced by Brian Tyler.

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  1. Adam Krysinski
    August 21, 2018 at 11:03 am

    Brian at his best!

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