"Crazy Rich Asians" stars talk about this being the first all-Asian cast Hollywood movie in 25 years

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In a summer of weekly blockbusters, sometimes even the most historic of movies might get lost in the shuffle. Let's try to not make that be the case with "Crazy Rich Asians" the first Hollywood movie with an all-Asian cast since 1993's 'The Joy Luck Club." That's 25 years of major studios shunning the Asian-American experience for the bottom line. Much-heralded novelist Kevin Kwan wanted to stop them.

Earlier this decade Kwan released a popular trilogy of books, "Crazy Rich Asians," "China Rich Girlfriend," "Rich People Problems," which garnered him a spot on Time Magazine's 100 most influential people's list. These novels were sprawling, multi-generational takes on the Asian experience in America and abroad. Hollywood soon came calling.

"Crazy Rich Asians" is the first adaptation of Kwan's books, a contemporary romantic comedy, based on Kwan's childhood, which follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) to Singapore as she is about to meet her boyfriend Nick's (Henry Golding) disapproving family. The film, directed by Jon M. Chu ("Step Up: 3D"), stars Wu, Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan and Jimmy Yang.

Director Chu shows a real knack for the visual as his film is splattered with colorfully vibrant images of a Singapore of our dreams as multiple traditions and backgrounds clash in a country filled with severe economic inequality. The story is a conventional one, but it's the way Chu makes us see the familiar with a whole new set of eyes that makes "Crazy Rich Asians" stand out. To say his film is a ground-breaker for what's on-paper would be an understatement, but the story itself, very much part of the rom-com genre, is richly delivered and textured in ways that feel fresh and authentic.
Jimmy Yang, Gemma Chan and author Kevin Kwan gave us their take on the importance of such a movie within the industry:

Yang: I couldn't believe this was getting made and I wanted to be a part of this. As development went on I started to realize how important this project was. It was a good, funny script. I was excited to audition. Then I started to listen to the audio books. When the movie started to shoot, landing in Singapore, the whole cast got along right away "Oh you like Asian food too?" [Laughs] It was such a special bond that all of us have and still have and we're still really good friends

Kevin Kwan: Which I'm told never happens. You see them and then you never see them again.

Yang: Yeah, all the time. I maybe have one friend from each movie I've made. However, whenever these two are in L.A. or come to town it's like "let's hang!" We are each other's priority because for me, culturally, I feel like I found my Cree, my peers, which has been very hard for me as a comic and as an actor so hopefully the audience will feel the same way. I hope that when Asians see this movie they will be like "Oh finally our voice is being represented and our faces are being represented. Hopefully this is one of many more movies to come that feature Asian casts, I hope we will open some doors.

Chan: What excited me when I read the script, and the books, was that the themes in it were very universal: love, friendship, family, relationships, all the themes that could be old and new, and span many generations. I felt that all of that could be something that could resonate not just with Asian audience but with non-Asian as well. It's just about something that could speak to all of us. For so long the universal experience seems to have been white, this movie shows that it doesn't have to be. Anyone that watches this film can identify and feel what the characters feel. 

Yang: Yeah, it's an Asian story but at the same time it's a very authentic story. [Author] Kevin Kwan knew all these people, so he based it off of experiences, so I think it also encourages more authentic story writing and it's not necessarily pushing "Asian, Asian, Asian, Asian!" I feel like this film just encourages personal storytelling 

Kwan: There was that infamous producer that told us to switch the female lead to a white "Reese Johannson" [laughs] I didn't even entertain that option, I was told "It's a pity you don't have a white character." However, every other producer that came to us was interested in the idea of his film because of the story, which is really a story that transcends race. It cultivates Asians but it's not just because they're Asian. I even optioned the movie for $1 instead of any 5 or 6 figures deal I could have done. I needed to maintain the creative purpose of "Crazy Rich Asians" before having anybody in Hollywood botch it.  I've said this before, the Netflix route was there, but we didn't go that direction because I wanted a cinematic experience to accompany the first all-Asian film in 25 years.

Yang:  That's part of the reason why we jumped on-board. Kevin had so much source material that he easily just took you to this other world with these stories. We watched the trailer at the wrap party, just a little video montage of footage that John made for the cast. And I was just amazed at the colors, the people, the sets.

Kwan: The music!

Yang: The music! It felt like this wasn't just a bunch of Asian people, this took you to fucking Narnia. It's a whole new world that Kevin set up that everybody can enjoy. It just so happens that everyone in this world is Asian. 

Yang: I felt like I did a straight Hong Kong accent. I had a conversation with John and was able to do that. Here's the thing, if a white American actor like Brad Pitt does a British accent really well then people say that's "art," he should win an Oscar etc. but when an Asian actor does an authentic Mandarin accent or Cantonese accent people scream that it's "misrepresentation" or "stereotypical." Are you serious? How come we, as Asian-American actors, are not judged on our skills and our acting abilities instead we are judged a lot of the time on how good of a representation it which is frustrating. This movie is not that. "Crazy Rich Asians" has a spectrum of us. Ronnie Chen, whom inherently has an accent, a Malay accent, all the Singaporeans had a Singaporean accent, Jenna has a British accent, all these accents just coming together makes us able to serve the story instead of serving ourselves as Asian actors. The liberating part with this movie is that people will be able to judge our performances and judge the film cinematically instead of trying to see it as "I'm a good Asian or I'm a bad Asian." How about "Are we good filmmakers or bad filmmakers?" "Are we good actors or bad actors?"