“Crazy Rich Asians” looks poised to become a late summer smash, but its cast and crew are well aware there’s more at stake than box office receipts.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 bestseller, the movie is the first mainstream Hollywood feature in 25 years to have an all-Asian cast. To director Jon M. Chu, that meant extra care had to be taken to avoid cultural cliches and blind spots, even if that meant some deviations from Kwan’s book.
One such tweak, Chu told The Hollywood Reporter, came at the suggestion of Constance Wu. The “Fresh Off The Boat” actress, who plays Rachel Chu in the film, convinced the director to remove some dialogue from the book in which her character boasted about never dating Asian men.
In a movie that’s otherwise being billed as a celebration of Asian culture, it might seem like a minor plot point. However, Wu’s successful bid to cut that line likely took into account the frustrating stereotypes surrounding Asian men.
A 2014 OkCupid study, for example, found that Asian men are deemed less desirable than other men on the app. Similarly, a Columbia University speed dating study conducted in 2007 found that Asian men had the most difficulty getting a second date. And then there’s the disturbing number of dating profiles that specify “No Asians,” even in 2018.
Such forward-thinking changes, Chu said, help the film portray Asians as “contemporary, stylish, at the top of art and fashion, emotional, funny, sarcastic and unapologetic. Confident.”
“We can sugarcoat it all we want, but the moment you bring up an Asian-led movie, there’s one example to point to, and that’ll be us,” he said. “To be on the biggest stage with the biggest stakes, that’s what we asked for.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Chu and Kwan explained their reasoning for opting to take the riskier, big screen route with “Crazy Rich Asians,” which is expected to rake in $20 million at the box office in its first week. In 2016, Netflix offered the team a “gigantic payday” to produce the film for the streaming network. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the deal included “complete artistic freedom, a greenlighted trilogy and huge, seven-figure-minimum paydays for each stakeholder”
“We were gifted this position to make a decision no one else can make,” Chu explained, “which is turning down the big payday for rolling the dice [on the box office] — but being invited to the big party, which is people paying money to go see us.”
In a separate interview with Vulture, Chu added, “Taking it to the theater, it’s a symbol that a Hollywood studio system thinks it has value, and we were all in a position in our careers where we didn’t need the money anyway.”
Doing so, Chu explained, made the cast and crew more determined to put out a high-quality movie.
“It put us emotionally all in and upped the stakes,” he said.