With a 100% critic score on Rotten Tomatoes, “Crazy Rich Asians” was well on its way to an epic opening when it premiered August 15.
But it was a long time coming. The last big movie that told a story about Asian Americans, “The Joy Luck Club,” came to theaters in 1993. 25 years later, “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is based on the 2013 novel by Kevin Kwan, is the first-ever all-Asian romantic comedy made by a major studio.
Kwan is from Singapore, where the film takes place, and said that everything described in his books — including a fish getting cosmetic surgery — is completely real. Kwan has spoken to every major media outlet about the pressures of this historic achievement, how his book series can become multiple movies, and his love for the romantic comedy.
“The first time I saw the movie they did a private screening just for me, and I was blown away. I sat there in a darkened room by myself and was just in absolute awe of what [director] Jon Chu achieved,” said Kwan. “It was amazing, and it’s been this five-year-long adventure. It’s been climbing Everest to get this movie made, in a good way. Because we really, really wanted to take our time and get it done right. We knew how important this was becoming so we wanted everything to fall into place perfectly, from finding the best director, to finding the amazing cast that we’ve assembled, to filming on location in Singapore and Hong Kong and Malaysia.”
Chu and Kwan waited five extra months so that Constance Wu could finish filming “Fresh Off the Boat” be in the film. “It was all just a Herculean effort to make this happen, and I’m so glad we did. We took our time and you see the results on the screen. It’s a fabulous, fabulous movie, which I really think will be an enduring classic.”
Kwan was extremely involved in the entire filming and production process. “I was involved in everything from day one as an executive producer. Part of the deal was that I got to have a vote. I got to be part of the round table that made every creative decision. So there were really no surprises for me. I got to help look for the screenwriter, all the actors, the director, and then once we went into production, I got even more involved,” he said. “I was basically texting and calling and speaking to Chu, every day. I was dealing directly with the fashion costume designers. I was talking to fashion schools. I was getting them to lend stuff for the movie. I was really up to my eyeballs involved in the film in a way that I think no author ever has.”
Transforming Crazy Rich Asians from a novel to the big screen involved detailing out every scene, whether food or fashion. “We wanted it to be like food porn and fashion porn and décor porn,” Kwan said. “We just wanted it to be so luscious in every possible way that people would want to come back and see again and again and again. If people start Pinterest-ing scenes of the fashion and the décor, that to me is success.”
Crazy Rich Asians in paperback is over 500 pages. When deciding what to cut, Kwan was, again, involved at every turn. “We really focused on, ‘How can we take this book, which is kind of esoteric, and really make it a movie that is going to be enjoyed by the most amount of people around the world?’ So we had to streamline the story, really simplify a lot of the plot lines. But I think it really still captures the essence of my book, and hopefully if the movie is successful, we can make more movies. Who’s to say we can’t do three movies out of just book one before we even get to book two? There’s so many story lines that are worth exploring. I think Warner Bros. is so excited to really — if it works — keep going into the world of “Crazy Rich Asians” by doing more and more movies.”
Kwan famously made a huge decision to turn down a Netflix offer and produce with Warner Bros. “Out of all the traditional film studios, they were the most excited to make this movie. Warner Bros. is just this amazing historic studio that does great movies. So that was a no-brainer,” said Kwan.
“The essential thing we were struggling with was that we wanted this movie to be able to prove to the industry that movies with independent stories, diverse stories, new voices, new faces can succeed. With Netflix, you don’t know really what is a true success because, unfortunately, we’re still working in an entertainment industry where success is measured by box offices. How Netflix measures success is totally different. Their metrics and their numbers are kept very proprietary and very secret.”
“It was essential for both Jon and I to really see this movie as a community experience. We see families going, generations of families going, grandparents, parents, children. This is a movie to enjoy at the theater with your friends, with your loved ones, with your boyfriend or girlfriend, with a whole group of girls. That’s kind of how Jon and I grew up enjoying the movies. We went to the theater. We didn’t just sit on our couch and click a button and wait for a movie to come on. We love doing that, don’t get me wrong. I love Netflix and Amazon and watching movies on streamers as much as the next person. But you know, for this movie, we felt it was important to start it out in the theater and give it a chance in the cinema.”
Making the first movie in 25 years with an all Asian and Asian American cast and the first rom-com produced with a cast of the same. Neither the historical significance nor the pressure is not lost on Kwan.
“When I realized that this movie had the potential of actually being made, I decided to step aside. I didn’t want to adapt the screenplay because I knew we needed the best damn screenwriter possible to adapt this. We needed to create the best team possible in every sense of the word to make this movie come alive. And we did, we achieved that.”
Kwan continued, “You see the vast potential of all these amazing actors in other roles that don’t have to be about just being Asian. I think that’s what’s so liberating about this movie. It was a full Asian cast so they didn’t have to be that Asian actor doing their Asian thing. They could just be great actors telling a great story, being part of a great project. And so that’s my hope, is that this movie transcends race. You know? I want people to forget that this is a historic movie with an all-Asian cast. I just want them to get into the story and get into the movie and realize that this is, no matter what color skin these actors have, amazing.”
Kwan also has divulged that some of the crazier memories from his childhood around the Singaporean elite were left out of the original books for being unbelievable.
“A lot of times it was descriptions of houses and places that just were so decadent they were beyond belief. In the first book, I had to leave a lot of things out because my editor thought it would jump the shark. People wouldn’t believe it was possible. But once the books worked, then people wanted more of it. That’s when I could finally come out and write about the fish that went for plastic surgery because it’s all true. But when you’re first introducing someone to that world, and they’ve never heard of it, you’ve got to prime them for it. You’ve got to prepare them for it. Book one did well so I could go even more extreme in book two with all real stories. There’s nothing in any of my books that’s made up. It’s all based on true people, true stories, true worlds, places I’ve seen, planes with yoga studios in them, things like that.”
Things like that.
Some content used with permission from Business Insider.