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August 14, 2018

'Crazy Rich Asians' fills 'gaping hole' in Hollywood says moviemaker

Bestselling author Kevin Kwan and the movie's stars were just in Philly for a screening of the new flick and an exclusive interview

With Wednesday’s arrival of ”Crazy Rich Asians,” a living, breathing community of artists and audiences get served something cinematically, that they haven’t seen since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club” – an all-Asian cast living life as family, friends, lovers and rivals – with sex, laughs, drama and romance at its command. 

Sure, the Singapore-based family and friends of “Crazy Rich Asians” traffic in outrageous amounts of money and a decadent design brand of opulence. That was part of the point of “Crazy Rich Asians’” best-selling author Kevin Kwan writing the book in the first place, before watching Hollywood turn it into a movie with his script’s help. 

“There was a huge, gaping hole in the marketplace for anything to do with contemporary Asian Americans,” said Kwan, in Philadelphia recently for a Prince Theater screening of his new film. 

“Walk into the fiction section of a bookstore. There are historical novels set in Asia about some king or the fall of Shanghai in another century. Or you could find those very depressing books about assimilation into this culture. There was nothing else, nothing young and fresh that told the story of Asia now, and how it has transformed into the most prosperous powerful economic zone in the world. I took that problem and made a story out of it.”

Gemma Chan and Jimmy O. Yang, two of the stars of “Crazy Rich Asians,” who joined Kwan for this trek to Philly, couldn’t have agreed more. They join Constance Wu (“Fresh Off the Boat”), Ken Jeong (the “Hangover” films), Michelle Yeoh (“Star Trek: Discovery,” “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon”) and Ronny Chieng (“The Daily Show”), in this comic misadventure.

“I was a fan of the books. Everybody I knew had read it,” says Chan, an Asian-British actress known for her roles in “Humans” and “Dr. Who.” Yes, she was a bit suspicious of the title, but once she dug in, she found the novel, fresh and funny, she confessed. 

“That’s why, when I got a call from my agent about the film version, I jumped at the chance," she said. 

"This feels as if this is a real and genuine moment for American-based, even British-based, Asians. Time and time again, we have been miscast or typecast or ignored. This is a film where you can see the diversity within Asian culture. You can celebrate it, laugh at it, or cry at it, as the themes are also universal. This something special doesn’t come along that often, so I jumped at it.”

Yang (of “Silicon Valley” fame) loved the idea of being involved in a cultural, critical flashpoint, such as the making of “Crazy Rich Asians” as it has been 25 years since “Joy Luck Club.” Yang enthusiastically stated how it is “Not every day that you get a script with the words “Crazy Rich Asians” across the front, and that you get to read with a full Asian cast,” said Yang. 

Time and time again, we have been miscast or typecast or ignored. This is a film where you can see the diversity within Asian culture. 

“I honestly couldn’t believe it, especially the extra added step of going to Singapore to shoot the movie. Suddenly, this was very real...Growing up with Asian-American media inspirations such as James Hong gave me confidence growing up. I could look up to them. The same thing, I hope, happens with 'Crazy Rich Asians.' For an up-and-coming community of Asian-American actors, writers or directors looking to tell their parents about the desires, ours is the rebuttal to the question: ‘How many Asians do you see on TV or film?'”

Ask Kwan about the provocative nature of his title, something most Caucasian audiences might have trouble saying, and the author laughs about that being his primary point of origin: shock value. 

“That was absolutely intentional. It is a double entendre in that having this level of wealth is crazy, and that people who have it, well, there has to be a certain level of insanity invoked in having that much money and doing outrageous things with it. 

"It is mean to be satire – to be light, entertaining, fun. Plus, since the book has come out in 2013, the title has become so popular as to become its own catchphrase in Singapore. The young and the wealthy shorten it to 'CRA.' It is a badge of pride.”