Crazy Rich Asians has another character that’s just as important as the film’s fish-out-of-water Rachel Chu, handsome charming Nick Young, and steely overprotective dragon mother Eleanor Young – Singapore.
The “location as a character” device is a well-worn film trope. And like many other movies and television shows before it, Crazy Rich Asians deftly captures a city in all her shiny, tourist-friendly glory.
Love it or hate it, Singapore plays a supporting role – like Vienna did in Before Sunrise, or New York City in Sex And The City – as a glossy, glamorous character in this romantic-comedy about the lives of some of Asia’s wealthiest Chinese families.
Littered across the silver screen are the requisite Singapore skyline tourism-porn shots of Marina Bay Sands, Newton Food Centre, Gardens By The Bay and, of course, the trusty Merlion.
Director Jon M Chu was in town for the Singapore premiere of his film, and told CNA Lifestyle that this was always meant to be a “love letter” to the country – an example of what he thinks the world should aspire to be.
"It’s no coincidence that we chose Singapore as a centre of this story. It is a city of the future. It is a glimpse into what the whole world will be,” he said. “High-tech buildings, low-tech buildings, history, culture – I hope that by getting a glimpse of this place, and as a character in our movie, you get a glimpse of what the world can be like."
But, as with all on-location shoots in a busy city, there was a fair share of trials and tribulations.
“There were places we almost didn’t get a few days before we locked in – like Gardens By The Bay,” Chu revealed.
While Gardens By The Bay was “very ‘open arms’ and very ready for us”, it was also celebrating its five-year anniversary at the time of filming, which presented a very unique problem.
“They had a light show every night for a week, so we had to work around that. When the light show went on, everything had to stop,” said Chu. “Because they respected the public who were coming out to witness this, they did not want (the film shoot) to disturb their watching.”
Which meant that for every night the light show was on, Chu had to shut down his set, turn off his lights, and allow the public onto his live film set to watch the Gardens By The Bay’s light show.
“That’s just hard, when you have 500 extras and you’re setting everything up and everything is perfect. Everything is lined up, and then it’s one minute to the light show!” he said, laughing. “So, OK, we shut everything down, stop and then 500 more people come in. Then you have to get them out. And then start up again. You just lose many hours.”
But for leading man Henry Golding, filming on location was worth all the hassle.
“That’s the beauty of this movie,” he said. “It’s so realistic in the sense that we’re on location in some of the craziest locations in Singapore. And now showing them to a global audience, people have literally been coming up to me saying, ‘I’m buying a ticket (to Singapore). I have to go!’ It looked beautiful. We had to film on location, no question about that.”
Crazy Rich Asians is showing in cinemas now.