If you aren't familiar with Crazy Rich Asians, author Kevin Kwan's hilarious and dazzling novel on the lives of the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent of Asia, then you better get caught up.
The film adaptation lands in theatres August 2018, and to help promote the film, the movie's cast and director are talking to the press about what it's like to be part of such a unique experience — unique in that it's one of the few Hollywood films that has an all-Asian cast.
As Entertainment Weekly notes, there have been few Hollywood films that have starred Asians in the principal roles since "The Joy Luck Club" premiered in 1993, a fact that "Crazy Rich Asians" star Michelle Yeoh is well aware of.
"It's been too long since there's been an all-Asian cast," said the actress, who stars as Nick Young's (played by actor Henry Golding) mother, Eleanor. "I've been very lucky to have worked on one before [2005's "Memoirs of a Geisha"], but they're too few and far between."
The film's director, Jon M. Chu, recognizes that because there have been so few Hollywood movies with Asian protagonists, there's a lot of pressure for "Crazy Rich Asians" to be a smash hit at the box office.
"There's the feeling that if you don't make a great movie, then all of this is for nothing," Chu noted in a press release.
However, he also wants to make it clear that this one film doesn't represent the whole Asian and Asian-American experience. "We need many stories. We need another rom-com that's totally different from 'Crazy Rich Asians.' There just needs to be more," he said.
To find his cast, which stars "Fresh Off the Boat" actress Constance Wu as Rachel Chu, Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong, and "Ex-Machina" actress Sonoya Mizuno as Araminta Lee, Chu says he looked through nearly a thousand audition tapes, which resulted in a spreadsheet that documented all available Asian and Asian-American actors and actresses.
"I think we now have the deepest database of Asian actors that speak English in the world. It was worth it. The best thing we ever did on this movie was cast this cast," he said.
Hopefully Chu shares his spreadsheet with the rest of Hollywood, as whitewashing — when a white-passing actor is cast in a role that was originally written for a character of colour — is still prevalent in the industry.
I think we now have the deepest database of Asian actors that speak English in the world. It was worth it. The best thing we ever did on this movie was cast this cast.
From films such as this year's "Ghost in Shell," where Scarlett Johansson was cast to play a role originally written as a Japanese character, to Jake Gyllenhaal playing the Prince of Persia, and Emma Stone playing a character called Allison Ng, who is supposed to be part Chinese and Hawaiian, Hollywood hasn't come a long way since Mickey Rooney played an Asian character in the 1961 film "Breakfast at Tiffany's."
Even Kwan says he felt pressure to turn his Asian characters into white ones. Entertainment Weekly notes that "during one early meeting with one potential producer who wanted to adapt the novel, Kwan says he was even asked to reimagine his protagonist as a white woman." Kwan retorted, "I was like, 'Well, you've missed the point completely.' I said, 'No, thank you.'"
Ultimately, the film is about a love story between two people who come from very different worlds, a sort of modern-day Romeo and Juliet without the dying.
"This is about a girl going somewhere that's foreign to her, to really find out who she is,"explained Wu. "It's just such a beautiful story, to show an Asian-American immigrant going back to Asia and finding the things that overlap and connect us all, things like family, things like love."