IF YOU’VE been hearing people say the words Crazy Rich Asians followed by an excited squeal, there’s a reason for that.
The upcoming movie is inspiring elation among audiences for two reasons — the first is that’s based on a best-selling book and already has a fanbase, and the other is that it’s the first non-period Hollywood movie in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast.
The movie comes out in the US next week but Australians will have to wait until the end of the month to check out what all the fuss is about.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling book, the movie is about Asian-American woman Rachel Chu who accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young to Singapore for a wedding.
Unknown to Rachel, Nick’s family is rich, like crazy rich, and they’re old money with the fortune going back generations. Nick’s family, especially his mother Eleanor, thinks Rachel isn’t good enough for Nick because she doesn’t have the right “breeding”.
Arriving in Singapore, Rachel is inundated with untold wealth and exposed to the kind of opulence she’s never experienced. But that flashy glamour is laced with snobby attitudes.
It’s a universal meet-the-parents story, except surrounded by endless designer labels, incredible houses and the kind of extravagant parties that would make Jay Gatsby jealous.
Even though it’s a Hollywood movie made by Americans, you won’t find any white actors, at least none with speaking roles. Instead, its cast features some of the most high-profile actors of Asian heritage from the US, UK and Australia, plus Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and more.
Rachel is played by American actor Constance Wu who is best known for her role as Jessica Huang in the US sitcom Fresh Off The Boat, a 90s-set show about an Asian-American family in Florida. The American-born Wu has been vocal about Hollywood’s diversity problem, calling out films such as the “white saviour” in The Great Wall or whitewashing in Ghost in the Shell.
Nick is played by Brit Henry Golding who has mostly hosted travel shows for the BBC up until now. He will also play Blake Lively’s suspicious husband in the thriller A Simple Favour, out later this year.
Michelle Yeoh will play Nick’s mother Eleanor. Yeoh has had a long career on both sides of the Pacific since the mid-1980s but is best known to Western audiences for her starring roles in Hidden Tiger, Crouching Dragon, the Bond movie Tomorrow Never Dies and in Memoirs of a Geisha.
Additionally, British actor and model Gemma Chan (Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit, Sherlock, Humans) has a supporting role as Nick’s cousin Astrid, Korean-American actor and rapper Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8) plays Rachel’s friend Peik Lin and funnyman Ken Jeong (The Hangover, Dr Ken) is Peik Lin’s dad.
Australian-based Malaysian comedian Ronny Chieng is leading the Australian contingent alongside Remy Hii (Better Man, Neighbours, Marco Polo) and Chris Pang (Tomorrow When the War Began, Marco Polo).
Other members of the cast include Jimmy O. Yang (Silicon Valley, Patriots Day), Sonoya Mizuno (Maniac), Nico Santos (Superstore), Lisa Lu (The Last Emperor, The Joy Luck Club), Harry Shum Jr (Glee) and Filipino talk show personality Kris Aquino.
What it’s not is #starringjohncho.
WHY PEOPLE ARE EXCITED
Kwan’s book had printed nearly a million copies when Warner Bros bought the movie rights. With that kind of popularity comes a built-in fanbase. Fans of the book loved the novel’s indulgent name-dropping of designers, amazing locations and the way almost every character splashed the cash with no sense of tomorrow.
But the real reason Crazy Rich Asians could become a cultural phenomenon is that in an era where conversations about representation on screen are becoming louder, this is the first contemporary Hollywood movie in 25 years to feature an all-Asian cast.
The Joy Luck Club (based on the popular book by Amy Tan), released in 1993, was the last movie to do this, with the sort-of-exception of Memoirs of a Geisha in 2005, which was a period film set in pre-war Japan.
Asian communities across Western cultures are excited to see themselves on screen and in main, speaking roles playing characters who are successful and confident, rather than relegated to supporting roles or have white actors play the main role in an Asia-set story.
Kwan and the producers recently revealed they turned down a more lucrative deal from Netflix to ensure the movie will be released on big screens around the world, with the kind of highly visible marketing campaign to match.
The flipside with Crazy Rich Asians is that these touchpoint movies then become representative of what’s possible going forward and is faced with enormous pressure to succeed — like Black Panther was for African-American communities and Wonder Woman was for the cause of female-centred superhero flicks.
So it needs to attract audiences and make money, because Hollywood is still a business machine not overly concerned with doing the right thing unless the right thing is also profitable.
WHEN CAN YOU SEE IT?
Crazy Rich Asians will be released in Australia on Thursday, August 30.