CRAZY RICH ASIANS
About The Production (Cont'd)
THE EXTENDED FAMILY
Nick's other cousins on hand for the festivities include Eddie and Alistair
although brothers, couldn't be less alike.
Ronny Chieng is ambitious investment banker Eddie, a family man, as evidenced by
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
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
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
Lately, his filmography features a leading lady of more smoke than fire named
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
by Bernard Tai, enthusiastically portrayed by Jimmy O. Yang. Not technically
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,
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
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
which ones to focus on. And some of the characters in the film are composites,"
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
"Focusing on Rachel's journey also allowed us to have someone audiences could
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
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,
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
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
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
Sands resort and the famous Gardens by the Bay, as well as locations in
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
Tyersall Park is one of the film's most spectacular sets. Researching the
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
Chinese, Taiwanese, nor Hong Kong in style, but a hybrid of all, mixed with
Its architecture features plaster work often comprised of floral or animal
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
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
The concept for Tyersall Park was old-school grandeur. "We wanted the interiors
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
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
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
Among the many details enhancing authenticity is a hand-painted mural in the
depicting scenes of Singaporean life in muted yellows, reds and greens against a
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
ancestry and heirlooms that have been passed down-framed photographs and
of Peranakan furniture, hand-blown glass and artwork. They would have travelled
their homes would contain Chinese and Peranakan pieces but also French, British
For a personal touch, Coates invited author Kevin Kwan to provide his own family
which are placed throughout Tyersall Park.
Coates also designed the adjacent conservatory housing Ah Ma's precious Tan Hua
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
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
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
"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
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,
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;
buy the same yacht or building or car. When you have money and all your friends
the difference is in how you make it your own and how creative you can be with
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
were incorporated, the scene was designed so that the bride in her magnificence
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,
swaying fronds of 24 two-story travelers palms in the nave and multi-colored
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
traditional hand-painted lanterns with the bride's and groom's names and scenes
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
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
new money juxtaposition, and how that translated into the clothing," says
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
Vogt looked to Kevin Kwan to help find a way into some of the cultural
understood the layers, colors and variety, and the influences. He gave me
Hong Kong jewelry designer Michelle Ong, who provided pieces for Eleanor and Ah
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
from renowned designers including Valentino, Armani, Dior, Elie Saab, Carolina
Marchesa, Ralph Lauren, Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen, as well as
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
guards around, and end dates, because they had to go back to the vault. We
afford to buy those items or even rent them, because pieces like this don't get
"The Swarovski costume jewelry looks great and we used that for the background
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
Young, with one notable exception. "Henry has a classic leading-man cool, so we
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,
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
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
"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
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
is a dancer and an athlete, so she's strong, and she carried that dress like it
ODE TO JOY
"Crazy Rich Asians" is also rich in its soundtrack, which encompasses a lifetime
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
"I wanted music from the 60s and 70s, when Singapore was newly established, and
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
of "Money (That's What I Want)," by Cheryl K, and "Vote," by R&B singer Miguel.
several contributions by Jasmine Chen, including on-camera performances with a
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
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
to rap and hip-hop and jazz-and then, on top of that, we have our amazing
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
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
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
do I want to pass on to her? How do I want her youth to be different from mine?
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
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
"Seven years later," the director concludes, "we're making this movie and he
'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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