There’s a lot riding on the success of Crazy Rich Asians, director Jon M. Chu’s silver screen adaptation of Singaporean author Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel about the lives of extremely wealthy Chinese families living in Singapore.
After all, it’s the first major Hollywood studio movie in 25 years (since The Joy Luck Club) to feature an all-Asian cast and is a highly anticipated game-changer in the wake of criticisms about how Tinseltown deals with diversity.
And nobody feels it more or knows this better than the cast.
“It’s just been such a long time coming … so everyone is very hyped up. Why? Because they are hungry for it!” Malaysian acting legend Michelle Yeoh told CNA Lifestyle.
“And I think a lot of Asian-Americans really want to see themselves on the silver screen: as the leading man, as the beautiful leading actress. And have their stories told the way it is, and in a contemporary way.”
With that comes expectations and a pressure for the film to perform well at the box-office, simply because of its social and racial significance to the movie world.
And for Singapore, too, where it premieres on Aug 21, complete with a red carpet event featuring stars Henry Golding, Pierre Png, Tan Kheng Hua, Koh Chieng Mun, Fiona Xie, Selena Tan, Janice Koh, Amy Cheng and Constance Lau, alongside director Chu.
But regardless of the movie buzz, cast members such as Nora Lum (also known as Awkwafina) are taking it in their stride.
“Asian-American cinema should not rely on the success of one (movie). These stories should always exist. I really don’t think this movie won’t do well, because it can’t.”
She continued: “We are entering an era in Hollywood where these stories will become more and more common. And every other movie gets a chance to fail. So why should minority movies be exempted?”
To be fair, this is quite lot for one film to carry on its shoulders. And Crazy Rich Asian’s soapy send-up of Asia’s outrageously wealthy high society and Singapore’s moneyed elite has been billed as the film that dares to challenge the typical Asian stereotypes often portrayed in cinema.
British-Chinese Gemma Chan, who plays Astrid Leong, said the biggest misconception about Asians is that “you can generalise Asian culture to one thing”.
“You know how much diversity there is within Asian culture? I think you see that in this film. You see Asians being beautiful, glamourous, flawed, tragic, comedic – you see the whole spectrum of characters.”
Awkwafina, who plays Goh Peik Lin, agreed before adding: “The misconceptions come from the type of Asians that we’ve historically have shown audiences, like the whole Asian man thing in Hollywood. We really have beautiful Asian men, it’s a real thing. I think this movie and the movies that will follow it will confront those misconceptions.”
For Asian-American Constance Wu who plays lead character Rachel Chu, it’s all about “narrative plenitude”.
“There are misconceptions about any population that don’t have narrative plenitude. Because stories are how we understand each other and each other’s lives. So if you have narrative scarcity, you don’t have any stories, you don’t have any media. You‘re going to make judgements based on the very limited amount that you have.”
She added: “So I think the reason this is a movement is because we’re going to generate more content that could be Asian-centred … Just give Asians around the world a sense of narrative plenitude.”
Debunking misconceptions aside, director Chu says it’s an “inevitability” that more Asians stories will be told on the silver screen.
And even if the Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t take the box office by storm (which it is expected to), the 38 year-old Asian-American feels that this is already a win.
“If it doesn’t do well, we’re going to keep pushing any way. There is no choice. We’re here and we’re staying here,” he said.
“But I do think this is going to be a great boost to help the next four projects that are literally sitting on desks of Hollywood studio chiefs. And they are looking at how this movie opens and how it does over its lifetime. If it does well, these things are getting made quickly. So we can get to that point sooner and people are in positions of power to do that. But this can help jolt that thing forward.”
The Singapore premiere for Crazy Rich Asians will take place at Capitol Theatre on Aug 21. You can catch the stars on the red carpet from 7pm to 7.45pm.