August 15, 2018
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. – This is a passport kind of love story.
Inside our dinner with the historic cast of Crazy Rich Asians
On Wednesday, "Crazy Rich Asians" hits theaters, a big-screen adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s best-selling 2013 novel. The film is everything promised in its title: beautiful billionaires, private jets, jewels, exotic jaunts and closets full of couture.

But what it also delivers is a wake-up call for Hollywood: "Crazy Rich Asians" is the first Asian-led contemporary-set studio film to hit theaters since "The Joy Luck Club" 25 years ago.
Sitting down for dinner at Joss Cuisine, director Jon M. Chu remembers going to see "Joy Luck Club" on a Sunday morning. "The earliest showing because it’s the cheapest,” he laughs, surrounded by his glamorous cast: Constance Wu, Ken Jeong, Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Gemma Chan. “And afterward, we were giddy with conversation about how much that’s like our family. And then we went to dim sum for, like, four hours and talked about it.”
The Asian movie that's wallpapering billboards today is a different kind of story, one that blends far-flung romance, wit and an eye-opening entree into Singapore's upper echelon. (This happens to be an image China eschews; Kwan’s book was banned there and the film has yet to secure distribution in China.)
Inside our dinner with the historic cast of Crazy Rich Asians
“Crazy Rich Asians” begins its fish-out-of-water tale in New York, where Rachel Chu (played by Wu), an Asian-American NYU economics professor, falls for her low-key colleague, Nick Young (Golding). Let’s go to Singapore, he suggests casually. You know, to meet the family.
But Rachel has no idea her beau is worth billions. And so she unwittingly becomes our proxy, the Nick Carraway of this Far East Gatsby tale, winding audiences through the lifestyles of Singapore’s rich and famous. “You really should have told me you’re the Prince William of Asia,” Rachel says to Nick, taking in his gilded world. “That’s ridiculous,” Nick deadpans. “I’m much more of a Harry.”
Inside the Beverly Hills restaurant, Jeong and his co-stars negotiate steamers of fragrant chicken siu mai and soup dumplings as the former "Hangover" star gets candid about the personal impact of this moment.
“I get unexpectedly emotional at times because this is bigger than all of us,” says Jeong, who plays the new-money dad of Rachel’s best friend, Peik Lin (Awkwafina).
Inside our dinner with the historic cast of Crazy Rich Asians
"It’s about more than diversity and checking off the box," says Wu, as Golding pours a round of tea. "It’s about representing a culture and allowing the people who know the culture to be the ones who tell it."
More: Opinion: Why 'Crazy Rich Asians' made me cry
The "Crazy Rich Asians" cast is stacked with talent, both known and new. For Wu, who rose to stardom on ABC's "Fresh Off the Boat," this marks the actress' first shot at a leading role in film.
“I was always sort of a diversity checklist" for producers, says Wu. “I never auditioned for the No. 1 lead. I might have auditioned for the No. 2 or No. 3. But the No. 1 lead was pretty much always a white person. And the No. 2 and No. 3 (roles), I’d be auditioning against any person of color." She pauses. "It’s good that producers want diversity but it’s also lip service because you have to think about what diversity actually means."
Yeoh (“Tomorrow Never Dies," “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") initially turned down the role of Nick's disapproving mother, Eleanor, worried that the matriarch would become a caricature. “I don’t believe a mother is a villain. The mother is nurturing, protective, she sees the big picture," says Yeoh, who was eventually won over by Chu.
Then there's Golding, Hollywood's newest heartthrob-to-be. “Crazy Rich Asians” is the chiseled British-Malaysian star's first major acting role, having made his way to the screen as a BBC travel host. "It's the mental barrier in Hollywood that Asians can’t be leading men or Asians can’t have onscreen romances together and be the fuel for the entire movie," he says.
Inside our dinner with the historic cast of Crazy Rich Asians
Chan, who plays Nick's glamorous cousin Astrid, nods. She's seen too many Asian women in popular culture "fetishized, oversexualized, objectified, depicted as overly submissive," she says. "In Eleanor, Astrid and Rachel, you have three very different characters who are agents of change in their own lives."
The Brit deftly rescues a choice piece of crispy duck from the platter. “The skin’s the best part,” Chan grins.
The good news is "Crazy Rich Asians" boasts a 97 percent positive rating from critics on review site Rotten Tomatoes, with some even speculating it could be a contender for the new "popular" Oscars category.
Still, the film is under major pressure to perform well at the box office. "Not only to demonstrate the broad-based appeal of a film with a predominantly Asian cast, but it also bears the pressure to be the film that could bring the pure rom-com back to its former glory at the multiplex," says comScore senior media analyst Paul Dergarabedian.
All of this factors into why the stakes are so high for “Crazy Rich Asians." The general American population has never been to Singapore, sampled its street food (a tantalizing blend of Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine) or rolled dumplings under the tutelage of grandparents. But they have passed on their own family traditions, fallen in love with unexpected partners and been terrified of their mothers-in-law.
That universality is why “Crazy Rich Asians” just may be this summer’s most widely appealing romantic comedy – and why producers turned down a crazy rich offer from Netflix, preferring a Warner Bros.-backed opening.
A nationwide movie theater release “sends a very strong message that a Hollywood studio that brands things as special and worth your time to fight against traffic and parking and getting into a theater (is behind this),” says Chu. “It says that we are worth your time and your energy. Which is a stronger message than anything.”
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