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CRAZY RICH ASIANS

About The Production (Cont'd)
THE EXTENDED FAMILY

Nick's other cousins on hand for the festivities include Eddie and Alistair Cheng, who, although brothers, couldn't be less alike.

Ronny Chieng is ambitious investment banker Eddie, a family man, as evidenced by the portraits he sits for with his impeccably posed wife and children. "There's love there, but there's also this weird kind of business mentality that makes you think they both want certain things and are together to achieve those things," observes Chieng. Amused by the way his image-conscious character can't figure Nick's angle with this American woman, he says, "Eddie is trying to figure out who Rachel is, why Nick chose her, what's special about her. She must be someone of high stature, but then why doesn't he know her name? Could it be that she's just a commoner?"

Meanwhile, eschewing a respectable position in banking or real estate, Alistair aims to be a film producer, a choice the family tacitly indulges, perhaps hoping he will eventually outgrow it. Cast in the role, Remy Hii says, "I look at him like a guy who ran away to join the circus, in a way. Alistair's using his money to kick-start these crazy B-grade Kung Fu action epics."

Lately, his filmography features a leading lady of more smoke than fire named Kitty Pong, played by Fiona Xie. "Kitty's career is being propped up by the projects he buys for her," says Hii. "They're an interesting couple, I'll say that much."

But Alistair's antics are nothing compared to the heights of excess and bad taste reached by Bernard Tai, enthusiastically portrayed by Jimmy O. Yang. Not technically related, Bernard nabs the honor of staging Colin's bachelor party via his father's business ties with Colin's dad. in other words, they're stuck with him. Yang calls him "a billionaire playboy not doing much with his life except partying and having fun. He's kind of a douche, but he loves himself and he loves life. imagine an 18-year-old who just graduated high school with a billion dollars."

Additional standout roles include Nick's former-girlfriend-with-an-agenda, Amanda, played by Jing Lusi; Astrid's straying husband, Michael, played by Pierre Png; and Rachel's loving mom Kerry, played by Tan Kheng Hua.

Bringing Kwan's book to the screen meant drawing from a tapestry of personalities and relationships, to bear upon the essential triangle between Rachel, Nick and Eleanor. As the story is very much from Rachel's point of view, the filmmakers wanted the romance front and center- will their relationship survive this trip?-and bring the other characters in by their connection to that central conflict.

"Kevin created such a rich, colorful galaxy of family and friends, it was a task to decide which ones to focus on. And some of the characters in the film are composites," notes screenwriter Adele Lim. "We felt that Rachel had the most compelling arc, starting as someone who feels out of place and needing to realize that she is more than worthy and strong enough."

"Focusing on Rachel's journey also allowed us to have someone audiences could relate to," adds screenwriter Peter Chiarelli, "and a way for them to learn about this crazy-rich world. it felt natural to introduce the other characters in relation to her and to Nick, because, as Ah Ma's chosen, Nick was always the sun around which everyone else would orbit."

The cast quickly formed a cohesive unit both on and off the set. "Everyone fell into encouraging and entertaining each other, like 'keep going, make that funnier,'" Chu recalls. "It was a team effort, almost a family feeling where we could share our experiences of taking on all these diverse characters and breaking this story open together. I think that energy comes through on the screen."

FIRST CLASS TO SINGAPORE

For anyone familiar with Kwan's book, Singapore itself plays a starring role, bursting with vibrant color, heat and dynamism in every way. The filmmakers agreed that capturing this story anywhere else but Southeast Asia would not have done it justice. "The texture of our movie, its escapism, comes from the fact that we really shot in these places. Everywhere we pointed the camera we found something special. it's a unique blend of cultures," says Chu. The setting had its effect on the cast as well. As Yeoh observes, "When you're in Singapore with the tropical air, the smell of food in the Hawker centers and the brilliant colors of the flowers and plants... there's nothing like being on a location like this."

"Crazy Rich Asians" utilized Singapore sites, including Esplanade Park, the Marina Bay Sands resort and the famous Gardens by the Bay, as well as locations in neighboring Malaysia- in particular, Langkawi island off the Malay coast, Penang, and the capital city of Kuala Lumpur. Kuala Lumpur even stood in for the film's early scenes set in New York's West Village, with its airport subbing for JFK. Malaysia also provided the space needed to stage Tyersall Park, the fictional Young family's secluded and massive colonial compound and surrounding acreage.

Tyersall Park is one of the film's most spectacular sets. Researching the history and design detail of what would be Nick's ancestral home, production designer Nelson Coates took a deep dive into Peranakan culture, which originated in the Singapore Straits and is neither Chinese, Taiwanese, nor Hong Kong in style, but a hybrid of all, mixed with European influences. Its architecture features plaster work often comprised of floral or animal ornamentation, louvered shuttering and colorful glazed ceramic tiles. Because the estate would have been in the Young family for generations and because Coates was keen to reflect that sense of history, it seemed appropriate to embrace elements of Peranakan design.

The production used two neighboring mansions in the Perdana Botanical Gardens in Kuala Lumpur, known collectively as Carcosa Seri Negara. Built as residences for the British Governor of the Singapore region in the early 1900s, the two Tudor Revival buildings enjoyed a second life as hotels until recently closed. Selecting Seri Negara for exteriors and Carcosa for interiors, Coates's team cleared both structures and made major repairs to roofs, stairs, walls and floors. They landscaped and terraced the impressive Seri Negara frontage and painted it in the characteristic Singapore style of white walls with black roofs and intricate detailing.

The concept for Tyersall Park was old-school grandeur. "We wanted the interiors to feel regal, with a restrained beauty and formality," Coates says. "There's symmetry to the furniture, as in many Peranakan homes, but it's a home that's been lived in and seen lots of children come and go. Jon was very keen for the house to be accessible, so the palette and the way the rooms flow into each other was important. We used the huge archways and augmented everything with more moldings, wallpapers and paint, carpets, glazing and gilding, and the result was remarkable. We even restored a beautiful herringbone floor we found underneath the floorboards."

Among the many details enhancing authenticity is a hand-painted mural in the dining room depicting scenes of Singaporean life in muted yellows, reds and greens against a deep teal background. The entrance hall boasts an imposing central staircase in soothing pale green with striking Morris-style floral wallpaper, and a life-sized rearing tiger that Coates designed. Made of fabric and foam by sculptors in Bangkok, the tiger proved so realistic that it was held up by customs agents who suspected it was genuine-and highly illegal-taxidermy.

Additionally, the designer remarks, "Like all families, the Youngs would hold dear their ancestry and heirlooms that have been passed down-framed photographs and wonderful pieces of Peranakan furniture, hand-blown glass and artwork. They would have travelled extensively so their homes would contain Chinese and Peranakan pieces but also French, British and Italian."

For a personal touch, Coates invited author Kevin Kwan to provide his own family photos, which are placed throughout Tyersall Park.

Coates also designed the adjacent conservatory housing Ah Ma's precious Tan Hua plant, the focal point for her annual party to celebrate its fleeting bloom. It blends Chinese and Colonial design with a green tiered roof, white columned exterior walls and porch, and carved louvred doors, while inside are decorative walls, and floors laid with Peranakan-style tiles in teals, reds and ochres. Antique furniture and objets d'art adorn the space, along with specimen flowers and exotic birds. The conservatory set was constructed in only 16 days, a remarkable feat considering the daily interruptions of heavy rain.

Coates then threw taste and tradition to the wind to indulge Bernard Tai's fantasy of a bachelor party to end all bachelor parties. He even surpassed the book by expanding the venue from a yacht to a cargo ship for a more immediate sense of scale-with Kwan's hearty approval. "In the book, they're partying on a mega yacht. But Jon decided to go so much further," the author laughingly recalls. "He said, 'Let's have a party on a super tanker! Let's build this incredible set with mosh pits and hot tubs and all these toys,' and it's just amazing to see what they created."

In a parking lot, Coates constructed the ship set to accommodate, among other things: gambling tables, an arcade, a basketball court and climbing wall, a massive swordfish buffet, a DJ booth fashioned from the front of a Rolls Royce, a helipad, and simulated Ducati races through a virtual Singapore, all graced by A-list guests and a bevy of genuine beauty queens from around the world, draped in their pageant ribbons.

But the film's real showpiece is the $40 million wedding of Colin and Araminta, which perhaps best illustrates a point Chu discovered as he delved into this project: "it's not just about how much money you spend, because everyone at this level can spend money; everyone can buy the same yacht or building or car. When you have money and all your friends have money, the difference is in how you make it your own and how creative you can be with it."

Consequently, he adds, "This had to be a wedding like you've never seen before."

Inspired by the aesthetic of a hotel Chu and Coates had scouted, in which natural elements were incorporated, the scene was designed so that the bride in her magnificence would walk barefoot down a path of water that was gently flowing toward the altar.

The wedding was shot at historic CHIJMES in Singapore as a symphony in green, with swaying fronds of 24 two-story travelers palms in the nave and multi-colored orchids and bromeliads lining the central aisle leading to a stone Chinese Moon Gate. Guests sat on custom velvet benches in a meadow of 3-foot-tall grasses. "It's an explosion of nature you wouldn't expect in a church," says Coates. "We wanted it to be subtle and have a touch of classicism, so there are 8-foot bamboo fans with the classic wedding imagery of the phoenix and dragon, and traditional hand-painted lanterns with the bride's and groom's names and scenes of prosperity and fertility-each painted by a master who took three weeks for each lantern. The entire floor is a big pegboard with grass bunches popped into it, so that if the camera needed to go in any direction we could pull them up and out of the way."

Local food stylist Pelita Lim ensured every dish was as authentic as it was a feast for the eyes, "to the minute detail of the slices of cake on each plate," Coates emphasizes. "The Kue Lapis is multiple layers of colored cake put together with egg, sugar and spices, and just one piece of it could set you back $25 at a fine hotel."

"Astrid and her husband have just broken up, Rachel is under attack and Nick is trying to find his way, and here we are at a magnificent wedding. It makes a great canvas onto which all this drama unfolds," notes Chu. Moreover, "it allows us to paint the picture of how to stage a wedding that's one of the biggest social events of the year."

YOU GOTTA LOOK THE PART

Money and class are also reflected in the clothes and jewelry. "I loved the old money and new money juxtaposition, and how that translated into the clothing," says award-winning costume designer Mary Vogt. "These are two different worlds. into that you add Singapore, with its elements of Chinese and Malay with a bit of Indian and English, and you have a global look, multicultural and rich."

Vogt looked to Kevin Kwan to help find a way into some of the cultural touchstones. "Kevin understood the layers, colors and variety, and the influences. He gave me contacts-for example, Hong Kong jewelry designer Michelle Ong, who provided pieces for Eleanor and Ah Ma."

Overall, she sought to touch upon the story's fairytale elements in the costumes. Her cue from Chu, she remembers, "was color, and lots of it!' He wanted to show Rachel's world in New York a bit like Dorothy in Kansas: heavier, with black, white and grays. When she gets off the plane in Singapore, suddenly they're in Oz where things are brighter, food tastes better, and everything is just a little more hyped up."

The wardrobe was a collection of Vogt's designs plus ensembles borrowed or purchased from renowned designers including Valentino, Armani, Dior, Elie Saab, Carolina Herrera, Marchesa, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, as well as Chopard, Bulgari and Swarovski, via an army of scouts in the U.K., Hong Kong and the U.S.

Says Chu, "We had people lending us millions of dollars' worth of jewelry. We had security guards around, and end dates, because they had to go back to the vault. We definitely couldn't afford to buy those items or even rent them, because pieces like this don't get 'rented.'"

"The Swarovski costume jewelry looks great and we used that for the background actors, but on our principals all the jewelry you see is real," Vogt confirms. "Chopard and Bulgari lent us beautiful pieces and the actors really enjoyed wearing them. However, Michelle did wear some of her own pieces that were absolutely gorgeous."

Yeoh's good taste benefited the production in an unexpected way. It was important that her character wears a distinctive ring that catches Rachel's eye and prompts the young woman to compliment it. Unfortunately, the filmmakers discovered that the ring they designed in preproduction for this purpose wasn't quite what they had hoped. "It was Michelle's first day of shooting," recalls Nina Jacobson. "She said, 'I have a ring. Would this be good?' And it was exactly right! it was similar to the one we envisioned, but much better. So, she generously lent it to us for the scene."

Nevertheless, says Vogt, "Clothes and jewelry never become the main event. For example, Gemma Chan wears fabulous outfits as Astrid, but audiences shouldn't see the dress first. You should look at her and say, 'Wow,' and then, maybe a beat later, 'is that a Valentino?'"

Chan is an Audrey Hepburn fan so, for her entrance, Vogt chose a pale pink, sleeveless Christian Dior dress with a half-circle skirt falling just below the knee, accessorized with oversize Jackie O sunglasses, both hinting at Hepburn's timeless grace. That same nod to the mid-century fashion icon is evident in Astrid's simple T-shirt and chinos. Says Chan, "What Astrid cares about is not how much something costs or what's going to be most showy. She likes things for what they are. It might cost a few million or be something she finds in a flea market and she'll mix different styles. it was great fun working with Mary to put together Astrid's looks."

Another eclectic style, on a more modest scale, is Rachel's. For her, Vogt created a range of looks that reflect her emotional challenges throughout. In New York her look is stronger. In Singapore, she appears more vulnerable, in a white and pink floral dress by Giambattista Valli, and then she wows at the wedding in a pale blue chiffon gown with fabric rosettes by Marchesa. "Rachel gets to dress in some pretty amazing clothes," says Constance Wu. "My favorite outfit? They're like my children. I love them all equally."

Vogt relied on Dolce & Gabbana for the suits and tuxes Henry Golding wears as Nick Young, with one notable exception. "Henry has a classic leading-man cool, so we made him several white linen suits and linen shirts which fit him like a dream," she says. "It was bespokemade in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur and he looked fantastic in them."

Golding found the costumes an invaluable aid to getting into character. "Mary put me into some extremely sleek and sexy suits, but the real head-turner is Nick's white linen. Every time I put it on, it was like a suit of armor and made me feel like I'd stepped right into his life."

For Eleanor, Vogt was inspired by Michelle Yeoh herself. "Like her character, Michelle is elegant," says the designer. "She has a dancer's grace and movement, so I wanted her to look casual and unrestricted, which is how Kevin describes Eleanor in the book. We put her in wide-legged pants and silk tops by Carolina Herrera, and a flowing, deep burgundy Valentino dress, adorned with a large brooch for the Tan Hua party. For the wedding, she's in a pale blue, silk satin and gold metallic, hand-embroidered tulle dress and coat by Elie Saab, with a yellow and white diamond Michelle Ong brooch as a belt buckle. it's a strong look but Michelle pulls it off."

Contrasting with the simplicity of Rachel, the retro cool of Astrid and the classic lines of Eleanor is the exuberance of Peik Lin. "Peik Lin is like a riot of stuff," says Vogt. "Her clothes are fun. We had outrageous five-inch heels for her which Awkwafina wore with aplomb. She can put anything on; she's an actor whose personality is so strong you look at her first and then notice the clothes." Peik Lin's looks range from Stella McCartney pajamas as day wear, to shirts adorned with bunnies, to a remodeled chauffeur's outfit, complete with cap and thigh-high boots. "Peik Lin's pretty much living like a rapper," Awkwafina jokes.

One of Vogt's biggest challenges was Araminta's show-stopping bridal gown. It has a fitted bodice and a huge skirt with flowing tiers and a long train. So far, so good. But the trick was that it had to be waterproof, as she traverses an aisle that turns into a stream. "It weighed a ton," Vogt admits. "it must be one of the only waterproof wedding dresses ever made! Sonoya is a dancer and an athlete, so she's strong, and she carried that dress like it was air."

ODE TO JOY

"Crazy Rich Asians" is also rich in its soundtrack, which encompasses a lifetime of evocative and cross-cultural music cues, from traditional Chinese songs freshly interpreted by a swing jazz band, to American standards and rock-n-roll covered by contemporary Asian artists. "I wanted music from the 60s and 70s, when Singapore was newly established, and Chinese songs that aren't ancient but reflected what was popular at that time," Chu says. "I also liked the idea of American songs covered in Chinese, because a big theme of our movie is that the world we're living in is getting smaller and all these cultures are overlapping."

Chu and music supervisor Gabe Hilfer curated a collection that includes a playful opening of "Money (That's What I Want)," by Cheryl K, and "Vote," by R&B singer Miguel. There are several contributions by Jasmine Chen, including on-camera performances with a four-piece jazz band for "Swinging Five," "Chang Hai" and "Give Me a Kiss," to entertain the guests at Ah Ma's Tan Hau party, and again at the wedding reception with "Wo Yao Ni De Ai (i Want Your Love, I Want You to be My Baby)" and "When Love is Away." The Elvis Presley classic "Can't Help Falling in Love," which was Chu's parents' wedding song, is performed at the wedding by Kina Grannis. Bookending the film, Awkwafina then breaks out an original rap on Cheryl K's take of "Money (That's What I Want)," to carry audiences through the end credits.

"It all comes together in this eclectic tapestry," Chu adds, "from old to new and remixed, to rap and hip-hop and jazz-and then, on top of that, we have our amazing composer Brian Tyler, who brings in a giant orchestra like an old Hollywood movie."

"Jon and I really wanted to make a splash with this score in a way that touched upon the great romantic comedies, with the charisma and beauty of Asian culture," says Tyler. "I composed in the style of old-school, big-band jazz, classic romantic strings, and traditional music from Asia. The jazz provided a fun, throwback tone and the strings brought the main themes to life in a way that articulates both the love and loss in relationships, familial and romantic. For me, as a composer, scoring a film that touches on all those themes was an incredible experience."

On a personal note, Chu reveals that the film's production coincided with the birth of his daughter, which underscored its various themes and raised such questions as, he says, "What do I want to pass on to her? How do I want her youth to be different from mine? Presenting a story with a strong female character like Rachel, I was very conscious of what my daughter might go through in her own life, embracing her cultures and finding out who she really is. The film is a love story and a comedy about family, and culture, and conflict, and coming together. it's also a representation of the next generation's journey: to make choices about what our parents have given us, what we have learned, and what we want to pass on to our children."

During Kevin Kwan's first visit to the set, the director reveals that he shared an insight into how his book began. Chu recalls, "When Kevin set up his computer, he wrote 'Joy' on a Post-it note and put it right on the monitor, and every day he wrote his story he looked at that note. He said that whatever happened, that was the most important thing he wanted to communicate.

"Seven years later," the director concludes, "we're making this movie and he told me, 'Whatever you do, this is the only thing that matters. if you can convey joy, it'll work.' That has been our guiding light, our North Star, throughout. And I hope that audiences will feel that joy when they watch the movie."

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