In the second of a new regular series, Channel NewsAsia's Genevieve Loh dreams up a fantasy Asian cast for the highly anticipated movie adaptation of the bestselling book Crazy Rich Asians.
SINGAPORE: Kevin Kwan's debut novel, Crazy Rich Asians, was one of 2013's most delicious guilty pleasure reads, which became a global bestseller. Anyone who has read Kwan’s soapy send-up of Asia’s outrageously wealthy high society, Singapore’s secret moneyed elite and its over-the-top stereotypes, surely ended the book with one thought: “This has got to be made into a movie.”
That is now going to happen, thanks to the quick optioning by Nina Jacobson (the producer of Hunger Games) with financing from Ivanhoe Pictures. Asian-American director Jon M. Chu (best known for Justin Bieber: Never Say Never and G.I. Joe: Retaliation) will direct, with Kwan on board as executive producer.
The Singaporean author, who is based in New York, has said in interviews that his dream cast would feature "equal representation in terms of Singapore stars, Hong Kong stars, Asian-American stars and mainland Chinese stars".
This is significant in the wake of Hollywood’s recent white-washing, especially when Kwan went on record to say that a producer wanted to change the Asian American lead character - Rachel Chu - into a white girl.
“It’s so perplexing to see how casting in Hollywood is so defensive. I think audiences are much more accepting of casting choices,” said Kwan told Hollywood Reporter in an interview. “When Crazy Rich Asians came out, there was initial interest from a producer who wanted to change [the heroine] Rachel Chu into a white girl. I tell that story to book clubs in suburban middle America and they go crazy: ‘Why does Hollywood think we would want to see this movie with white people?’ They don’t need every film to be chock-full of the latest stars.”
With director Chu revealing in other interviews that he already has plans to film Crazy Rich Asians on location in Singapore, we feel emboldened to do a little local casting ourselves.
Here is our dream cast of Crazy Rich Asians that is as Asian as we can make it.
CONSTANCE WU AS RACHEL CHU
The Taiwanese-American actress is everyone’s odds-on favourite for the lead role and why not? In the span of two short seasons on the sitcom Fresh Off The Boat, Wu has delivered a breakout performance that has been nothing short of outstanding. She has shattered and humanized stereotypes, and brought to life one of the most hilarious, inimitable, strongly opinionated and powerful female characters on television today. Wu has also made a name for herself speaking out against racism and whitewashing in Hollywood. Two very strong reasons why she is perfect to play Stanford-educated American-born-Chinese Rachel, the professor from New York who is in no need of damsel-in-distress saving and who is believably strong enough to withstand the craziness and snobbery surrounding her when she is thrust into the middle of Singapore’s elite.
GODFREY GAO AS NICHOLAS YOUNG
We can see Gao as a handsome but low-key Oxford-educated professor in New York who turns out to actually be scion of a filthy rich family and heir to one of Asia’s great fortunes. Kwan practically describes the actor-model when he writes that Nick Young is tall, with “perfectly tousled black hair, chiseled Cantonese pop-idol features and impossibly thick eyelashes”. Born in Taipei to a Malaysian mom and Shanghainese dad, the 31-year-old spent his childhood and university years in Vancouver and has clocked Hollywood points by playing Magnus Banein in 2013’s The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones and becoming the first ever Asian male to model for Louis Vuitton. Charisma, presence and looks? Check, check and check.
MICHELLE YEOH AS ELEANOR YOUNG
For a South-east Asian actress who has arguably managed to circumvent Hollywood and its infamous racial and gender stereotypes of Asians and women, former ballerina-turned-Miss Malaysia Michelle Yeoh is more than capable of filling the shoes of the formidable and sophisticated monarch-in-waiting Eleanor Young, the imperious mother of Nicholas and hater of Rachel. After all, she broke the mould by being the first Asian actress to take on a prominent role in the James Bond franchise, which is why it’ll be exciting to see the 53-year-old Malaysian play against her usual heroine type by playing a character that is both a poisonous doyenne and an object of some sympathy. Plus, she’ll be able to nail the Singaporean accent.
RUI-EN AS ASTRID LEONG
In the novel, Kwan writes that Astrid “wasn’t attractive in the typical almond-eyed Hong Kong starlet sort of way, nor was she the flawless celestial-maiden type” and that “Astrid simply made her own rules, and through the confluence of her particular circumstances”. Indeed, Singaporean actress Rui-En might not be everyone’s immediate first choice to play elegant socialite Astrid, Nicholas’ cousin and high society’s IT girl, but the actress certainly plays by her own rules, as evidenced in recent run-ins with the law and media. Plus given her real life Singapore Chinese Girls’ School ties (the elite Singaporean school was mentioned in the book), crazy strong local fan base and acting chops, she just might be able to pull off this role of an independent-minded aristocrat whose husband has fallen out of love with her. And yes, it’ll be great to see a Singaporean play a Singaporean in a Hollywood movie.
ADRIAN PANG AND FIONA XIE AS EDISON “EDDIE” CHENG AND KITTY PONG
We think Xie, who just re-emerged from acting retirement would make a great Kitty Pong, the gold-digging soap opera star who first seduces one super-rich young man into an engagement and then dumps him for an even richer prospect. It’s a role that any starlet wanting to make a big comeback splash would gladly sink their teeth in. And then there’s Singaporean favourite thespian Pang. His award-winning acting would elevate the character of Nick’s cousin Eddie, the vain banker who, despite his wealth and social status, still feels extremely deprived compared to most of his friends.