By the time mid-August rolls around, movie-goers just might feel saturated by big screen high jinks, over-the-top tentpole action, and plain old blockbuster fatigue, but Jon M. Chu’s “Crazy Rich Asians” adaptation could be the ticket to ending the season on a very original high note. But it almost didn’t happen.
In a revealing interview with Entertainment Weekly last year, author Kevin Kwan shared his early experiences in attempting to get his novel made into a big screen property. The author told the outlet that during an early meeting with a potential producer, “the producer asked him to reimagine his protagonist, Rachel (played by Constance Wu in the film), as Caucasian. ‘That was their strategy,’ he remembered. ‘They wanted to change the heroine into a white girl. I was like, “Well, you’ve missed the point completely.” I said, “No, thank you.”‘”
Kwan was right on the money, because to think that Rachel could so easily be reimagined as a white woman would not only strip away a major part of the character’s identity, it would mostly defeat the purpose of the story itself, which focuses primarily on the Asian immigrant experience. In the film, Wu plays Rachel, a Chinese-American woman who is about to get in touch with her Asian roots in some very unexpected ways. Chu’s film follows Rachel as she travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding.
It’s already a nerve-wracking enough experience, but it’s about to get a lot worse. While Rachel is aware that Nick’s family is well-off, nothing can prepare her for what she finds in Singapore: Nick’s family is tremendously wealthy, the wedding they are attending is the social event of the season, and pretty much everyone she meets does’t like her, as they’re convinced she’s just some random Chinese-American gold digger who is only after Nick’s money. It’s a splashy, soapy, wild story, and it’s also primarily populated by Asian characters in Asian locales. (And, not to spoil too much, but in subsequent novels, Rachel’s own heritage becomes a major part of the story.)
Thankfully, Kwan eventually found producers who understood the story he was trying to tell and the kind of characters that make it so special. The film adaptation of the novel — the first of three Kwan has written about these characters — was produced by Nina Jacobson and Brad Simpson, who made the film with Warner Bros. (and an appropriately Asian cast).
Check out the first trailer for “Crazy Rich Asians” below.
“Crazy Rich Asians” hits theaters on August 17.