‘Crazy Rich Asians’ sparkles at box office

The story taps into the fundamental desire to fit in, while honouring your own identity, in an era of blending – and sometimes clashing – cultures.

Releasing to near universal acclaim, not since The Joy Luck Club has a film boasting an all-Asian cast taken the world by storm like Crazy Rich Asians. In South Africa, even Montecasino hosted a mega premiere to celebrate the comedy film’s release.

Crazy Rich Asians proved its staying power in North America, topping the box office for the second weekend running, according to data released on Monday.

The Warner Brothers adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel of the same name took $24.8 million, a tiny, almost unheard-of, 6% drop on its $26.5 million debut, box office tracker Exhibitor Relations said.

Starring veteran actress Michelle Yeoh, British-Malaysian former BBC host Henry Golding and American sitcom star Constance Wu, the film tells the story of a US economics professor who meets her superwealthy boyfriend’s family in Singapore.

In 2018, the film became a tipping point to introduce a new wave of narratives from often marginalised groups within the Hollywood spectrum. The success of Black Panther with a cast that was predominantly not white was a testament to that, now it’s Crazy Rich Asians – a film that at its core is about young love – just with an all-Asian cast.

“We’ve all been there,” says director Jon M Chu, “feeling out of place, confident in some moments and self-conscious in others, being on the outside and trying to find common ground. It’s great to have a close family, but sometimes it can drive you nuts. They embarrass you. They’re judgmental about who you’re seeing and where you’re headed.

Director Jon M Chu points to his name embroidered in his jacket at the US premiere of Crazy Rich Asians at the TCL Chinese Theatre IMAX in Hollywood. Picture: EPA-EFE/

“Mothers, especially, can put their sons on a pedestal and make it their business that the person he chooses is worthy. I have gone through that with my own mother,” he confesses with a smile.

Set in Singapore and featuring the first all-Asian ensemble in a contemporary Hollywood film in 25 years, the story mines humour from the idiosyncrasies of one family in a way that people everywhere can relate to no matter who they are, how much money they have, or where they call home.

It taps into the fundamental desire to fit in, while honouring your own identity, in an era of blending – and sometimes clashing – cultures.

As Rachel’s friend tries to warn her: these people aren’t just rich. They’re crazy-rich. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Constance Wu, who stars as Rachel, describes her as a college professor raised by a working-class, single mom. For many people, that’s a point of pride, but not for the Youngs. Their pride comes from legacy.

“I don’t think the story says one value system is better than the other, but it shows those cultural differences and the differences between Asian and Asian-Americans that are often overlooked.

Constance Wu as Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians. Picture: Warner Bros

“What I love about Rachel is that when things get tough she has the courage to follow her heart and forge her own path, in ways that are tested, but, ultimately, make up who she is.”

It’s a test for Nick Young, her love interest, too. “Having decided Rachel is the one, he has to get over the speed bump of bringing her home,” says Henry Golding, making his feature film debut as Nick.

“He’s afraid if she sees how he was brought up, she might think he’s not the guy she fell in love with. Also, once home, he sees more clearly the forces conspiring to tear them apart.

“We knew the universality of the story would come from its specificity,” Chu adds. “The more specific we could be about the cultural touchstones, the characters and their backgrounds, the more we would create a story that people everywhere could connect with.

“Because every culture and family is crazy and has traditions and weird things you’re reluctant to show anyone, but that, over time, you might become proud of and want to share.”

Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, Henry Golding as Nick Young in Crazy Rich Asians. Picture: Entertainment Weekly

That is evidenced by the worldwide popularity of the book on which the film is based, author Kevin Kwan’s New York Times and international bestseller Crazy Rich Asians.

Kwan was an executive producer on the film. He consulted on myriad details from character to costumes, locations to design, opened up his private family albums to inspire the design teams and put the filmmakers in touch with a private watch collector who lent the production a prized high end timepiece that arrived with a security escort.

Regarding the script, though, he was hands-off, saying: “I was too close to it. So, we brought in these amazing writers, Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim. I wanted to give them absolute freedom to go in and take out the story that would work best for the movie.

“Between their vision and Jon’s, they really supercharged it. It’s one thing to describe a scene when you have 30 pages to create this world, but in a movie you have a split second. People respond immediately.”

The collaboration seems to have paid off. Crazy Rich Asians is on circuit in South Africa.

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