BOOK REVIEW

Opinion: why a Crazy Rich Asians film franchise would be great for Asian actors

Kevin Kwan’s novel, and follow-up China Rich Girlfriend, offer rich material for romantic comedy, and fabulous locations including Hong Kong. So it’s great news a film deal is in negotiation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2016, 8:00am

Crazy Rich Asians, Kevin Kwan’s novel about a New York University professor who discovers that her historian boyfriend is from a wildly wealthy family when they travel to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding, is the kind of novel that’s just begging to be adapted into a movie.

It’s got fabulous clothes, thanks to that historian boyfriend’s bespoke wardrobe and his cousin’s penchant for couture clothes. It’s got gorgeous locations: the action zips from Manhattan, to Singapore, to Macau and islands in the Indian Ocean, to Hong Kong. And it’s got the sort of well-constructed romantic drama, rooted in real challenges for the couple, on which the best romantic comedies rely.

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But just because something would make a dream movie doesn’t mean that it will happen. And while Crazy Rich Asians was optioned in 2013, a sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, hit bookstores before a Crazy Rich Asians adaptation even got moving. So it was terrific to hear recently that the project is moving forward, with director Jon Chu negotiating a deal to bring the book to the screen. And at a moment of intense discussions about the ways Asians and Asian-Americans are portrayed onscreen, Crazy Rich Asians offers a rare opportunity not just for a romantic comedy that stars actors of Asian descent but also for a whole romantic comedy franchise.

Book review: China Rich Girlfriend - sequel to Crazy Rich Asians

It’s hardly newsthat a) the romantic comedy has been seriously marginalised as a movie genre, or b) that actors from ethnic minorities are underrepresented in Hollywood. But one bright spot for those who love romantic films and want to see more minority actors on their screens has been the rom-com franchise.

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Take Malcolm Lee’s The Best Man and its subsequent sequels. The Best Man, which came out in 1999, follows a group of friends who have assembled for a wedding. Then there’s Tim Story’s 2012 ensemble romantic comedy, Think Like a Man, which let a great cast of black actors show off their chops.

It would be wonderful to see Crazy Rich Asians, China Rich Girlfriend and what I presume to be another instalment in Kwan’s series, given the events of the last novel, do something similar for Asian and Asian-American actors.

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Kwan’s books have not just a huge range of characters but also a huge range of parts, from Rachel and Nick, the couple at the centre of the story; to Shang Su Yi, Nick’s aristocratic grandmother; to Astrid, Nick’s fashionable cousin, and Michael, her striving husband; to social-climbing Eddie (another one of Nick’s cousins) and his browbeaten children; and to Eleanor, Nick’s scheming mother. And the novels are simultaneously comedies of manners and sharp-eyed observations of Asian economies, giving that crew of characters multiple modes to work in.

An acting showcase like this does a little to embarrass studios and casting directors who pigeonhole Asian and Asian-American actors as sexless dorks or poorly integrated immigrants. And beyond their social utility, a Crazy Rich Asians movie would be what Kwan’s books already are: delightful bonbons, at a time when Hollywood wants to only feed us beefcake.

The Washington Post