True love goes up against money, lies and family feuds in the long-awaited Crazy Rich Asians, releasing in theatres on August 16. What more could you want out of the great rom-com renaissance? How about an all-Asian cast?
Directed by Jon M Chu, the film is being heralded one of the first all Asian, Asian-American and Asian-British Hollywood productions in more than two decades. The utterly compatible Constance Wu and first-time actor Henry Golding take the lead amidst a slew of sensitive performances (Tan Kheng Hua and Michelle Yeoh, to name a few) and a good dose of hilarity (we’re looking at you, Awkwafina, Jimmy O. Yang and Ken Jeong).
Wu is a breath of fresh air as the levelheaded, ambitious and compassionate Chinese-American economics professor Rachel Chu, who accompanies her boyfriend Nick Young (Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore — a story once told in the eponymous best-selling novel by Kevin Kwan.
But Chu has no idea what’s waiting for her when she arrives. Namely, that her beau is a reluctant socialite, and that his family is filthy, filthy rich. The Youngs, not quite ready to break tradition for Chu, force the star-crossed lovers to navigate familial expectation, social conventions and, of course, romance.
Gulf News tabloid! caught up with Wu about what it was like to bring the much-loved novel to life, and what could be next for Nick and Rachel.
As a lover of the genre, it’s great to see the renaissance of romantic comedy. How did it feel to be a part of a rom-com, and to be the leading woman?
It was such a privilege and honour to be able to carry this movie and have a great time doing it, and to make something that a lot of people are going to enjoy. It will bring meaning to other people’s lives, hopefully.
What were some of the romantic comedies that you grew up on?
My favourite when I was a kid was called While You Were Sleeping. It’s so silly; it stars Sandra Bullock and Bill Pullman. It’s like a girl who falls in love with this guy she never met and then of course he gets into an accident and goes into a coma. Have you seen this? I love that movie. And of course, I love Notting Hill. Recently, there was this one called About Time. It stars Domnhall Gleason and Rachel McAdams. It’s fantastic. Highly recommended.
Do you think having a Rachel Chu up there on the big screen would have been important to you as a kid or as a teen growing up?
Probably. You know, I’ve started thinking about representation and diversity a lot more recently, within the past, I don’t know, decade or so. But when I was a teenager, all I was interested in was clothes and boys. So I’m not sure I would have been paying that much attention. I mean, of course, just knowing that it existed, and that it was a possibility — although I pursued the career, so I must have somewhere thought it was a possibility. But I’m sure that would have been good. I feel like when you’re a teenager, a lot of times, or at least when I was a teenager, I was just thinking about clothes and make-up.
Were you familiar with the books before taking on the role?
I’d read it a few years before I got the role. One of my former agents had told me, ‘Hey, this book… I think they’re going to make it into a movie, I think you should read it.’ I was like, ‘This is great!’ But then, nothing really happened to it for a few years. So when it did come up again after Jon Chu signed up to be the director I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, I read that!’ and I sort of went back over it. And then I got the part in the movie, which was so awesome.
How did you and Henry Golding get the chemistry right on screen?
Before we even started the movie, for the audition process, we had to do what’s called a chemistry read. They had me read the same scene with all these different actors, because you never really know who’s going to have chemistry and who isn’t. [Henry and I] just sort of had chemistry, in terms of, I don’t know, just our rhythm and sense of humour. It’s that thing that’s kind of indescribable. I think chemistry is actually more magical when it doesn’t require work — where it just happens. That’s when it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh.’
This was Henry’s first acting role. Did you sense any nervousness or reluctance on his part?
You know, I think he was nervous a little bit, maybe on like the very first day. But then he just fell into it so naturally and gracefully after that. People who have been doing movies for decades, they still get nervous on the first day, because you’re working with a whole new crew, you’re working with a new director. On my TV show [Fresh Off the Boat], I have a different director every week, so I’m sort of used to having a first time, so I wasn’t nervous on the first day at all, because I do my TV show nine months out of the year. But [Henry] just fell into it so naturally. He did a great job.
A lot of the emotion in the film also hinges on generational ties; you have great scenes with your mother and potential mother-in-law. Do you think that’s a significant part of the story that’s being told?
I think that’s a significant part of this particular story, but I think it’s also a significant part of a lot of people’s stories. Family dynamics is something that is unique to every culture and also to every family. Everybody can understand that honouring and understanding the uniqueness of their family bond is something that matters to them — and that it’s something that also often gets in the way. It’s relatable, and it’s important to who we are as people. So I’m glad that it was a part of the film, and that it was sort of like the of soul the film, in a way.
Did you worry at all about how fans of the book were going to receive the movie?
I feel like they’re such different projects… Our movie is like what, two hours long, right? And the book has several different storylines, it doesn’t just have our storyline. So I think people who really are into Rachel’s storyline will probably really love the movie, because that’s what centres the movie. Some of the other characters in the book, who have great storylines, obviously, we didn’t have time to go into all of that. In a way, every character deserves their own two-hour movie.
The friendship between your character and Awkwafina’s character comes through brilliantly. What was it like to work with her?
Awkwafina is great. I mean, we call her Nora [laughs]. Nora’s awesome. I pretty much have the best time working with her. I think we’re maybe the only Asian-Americans on that movie because there are a lot of Asian British, Asian Australian, Asian Singaporeans and she and I are both American. She was born and raised in New York, and I lived in New York for six years doing theatre out of college. We both had that New York experience, so we have a similar sense of humour and a similar tempo and vibe.
The book has two sequels after the first Crazy Rich Asians. Is it something that you guys are thinking about, continuing the story?
That’s up to Warner Brothers, to be honest. I’ve read both books and they’re both sequels, and they’re both great. They focus on many different things in different ways. It depends how well the first one performs, I think. I signed a three-picture deal, so you know – if they want me, they have me.
What do you hope audiences get out of this movie?
I hope people have a great time and I hope people believe in love.
Don’t miss it!
Crazy Rich Asians releases in the UAE on August 16.