Making the Crazy Rich Asians movie - and getting it right

Making the Crazy Rich Asians movie - and getting it right

Director Jon M. Chu tells Channel NewsAsia's Genevieve Loh about how he was destined to direct the movie adaption and how important it is to get it right

Crazy Rich Asians and Jon Chu

SINGAPORE: One could say it was always on the cards for director Jon M Chu to helm the upcoming film adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. Or perhaps in his case, on the pages.

The 37-year-old Asian American director was reportedly referenced by author Kevin Kwan in the bestselling novel about the lives of extremely wealthy Chinese families living in Singapore. It follows the story of Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu who follows her Singaporean boyfriend Nick Young back home for a visit, only to discover that he is the heir to one of the biggest fortunes in Asia.

According to Chu in a separate interview, he was chatting on the phone with Kwan when the bit about “the cousin who makes movies in Hollywood”, written in the novel as part of Rachel Chu’s hardworking extended family in Cupertino, was brought up.

“Kevin (Kwan) said, ‘I’m referring to you!’” Chu recalled about the phone conversation. “I was like ‘What?! This is too crazy. This is the time.' And win or lose, I’m supposed to do this movie. I have a strong bond, in a weird, strange way, with this property.”

A bond that certainly runs a lot deeper than just a mention in a novel.


Chu, the son of immigrant parents (his father came from China and his mother came from Taiwan), told Channel NewsAsia that as soon as he read the book, he knew he had to do the movie.

“I wasn’t necessarily looking for a project about being Asian or anything like that. I know that after doing a bunch of Hollywood movies, I felt that one thing I’d never explored was the Chinese side of me,” Chu shared. “In my mind, and at this point in my career, I wished I had a movie that could reflect this dual identity that I have - Chinese and American. These are two sides that I feel very passionate about. And there are differences.”

While he toyed with possibly attempting a Chinese language film, his sister called him to remind about Crazy Rich Asians.

Chu felt that even though the book read like a “fun romantic romp that offers an insane look into this world”, there was something deeper that resonated with him.

“It has this undercurrent of exploring dual identities,” he said. “And the different types of Chinese, the different types of wealth, the different types of cultures and classes. And how they all collide … I knew I had to do this movie. There wasn’t even a choice.”

It was the movie, he said, he didn’t know he was looking for.

“It’s a movie that speaks to my identity as an Asian and that struggle of figuring out who I am and where I belong,” he said.


With all eyes firmly on this highly anticipated film which promises an all-Asian cast, does Chu feel the pressure to get it right, especially in the wake of criticism about how Hollywood approaches diversity?

“I’m lucky that I had experience of coming into a movie with giant fan bases. When I did the Justin Bieber movie, I felt the pressure from his fans to get that movie right. Because his fans, they would have killed me,” he said with a laugh. “It's the same with G.I. Joe fans … so I have felt that pressure before.

“This movie, it’s not about pressure, it’s about responsibility - personal responsibility to my family, to my future kids, to the Asian communities and the media in the US and abroad that have been so kind and supportive of me,” he shared.

Chu acknowledged that going into the film like this, there will be a lot of questions that he might not have the answers to.

“Like are we allowed to cast a half Chinese, half some other ethnicity person in a Chinese role?Are we allowed to cast a Korean as a Chinese person? All these different rules that I don’t know if there are answers to,” he said. “Because with other ethnicities, we have British people playing US soldiers or Spiderman which is an all-American thing, so I think it’s a little unfair … But at the same time, I also want to be the example of how to do it correctly.”

There is one thing that Chu is sure of and that is to make “a fun entertaining movie that makes people think”.

“I know it won’t please everybody… but if people don’t have a good time watching the movie…if they don’t start thinking about what it means being Asian, other ethnicities or kids of immigrants...then I think I will not have done my job.”

Source: CNA/gl