While the movie hasn’t officially hit theaters yet, after viewing the film and seeing the 100 percent score on Rotten Tomatoes, the CASSIUS team is entirely confident in saying this — Crazy Rich Asians is the film of Summer 2018.
CASSIUS was able to speak to director Jon Chu on the phone during his press tour. Check out what he had to say about the inspiration behind the film, how his own family influenced plot changes that weren’t included in the book, and why diverse filmmaking is so important now.
CASSIUS: You’ve worked on some big budget films before, but this film hits a little bit closer to home and the stakes are at their highest. In what ways did that inspire your process in creating the film?
Jon Chu: I think as an artist you always want to do stuff that scares you and I had been making movies that I loved and had enjoyed, but I had gotten comfortable. I wanted to explore something I had never explored, which was my own cultural identity.
It’s the scariest thing in the world when you are the only person of color in the room
It’s the scariest thing in the world when you are the only person of color in the room — the last thing you want to do is point out that you’re Asian. This was an opportunity to explore this side that I actually was very proud of, I just never did it in my own work. To read a book like Crazy Rich Asians, that wasn’t about crazy rich Asians, actually, to me it was always about Rachel Chu, an Asian-American going to Asia for the first time which was like a homeland. A lot of people, not just Asians, have experienced this.
Even though it’s a romantic comedy, it’s not about getting the man or someone saving her, this was about her saving herself. That pressure of the outside world melted away to my own pressures, my family, my own life, trying to make them proud and show things the way I saw them. That was the strategy that I had to employ because the heaviness of everyone else was too much. I had to hold my own perspective.
C: Were you able to see any part of yourself or your family’s story in the screenplay?
JC: Oh definitely, we added things that weren’t in the book like the dumpling making, the ring at the end, the mahjong scene, those were all not part of the book.
People say ‘Asians aren’t emotional.’ I respond, ‘we are the most emotional people, you just don’t know what to look for.’
The dumpling thing was definitely from my own experience of making dumplings with my family — there was a warmth there. We may not say I love you to each other, but we speak through food. People say ‘Asians aren’t emotional.’ I respond, ‘we are the most emotional people, you just don’t know what to look for.’ We’re saying it in so many other ways than just words and that’s what I really wanted to show. The context is all there, it’s just how you express it that’s different. That’s what I tried to bring to the movie without explaining it … just let the audience into the world as Rachel Chu, an American, comes into the world.
C: One of our favorite parts of the movie was that the soundtrack was mostly in Chinese. Can you talk about the thought process that went into that?
JC: It started when I was listening to old Chinese songs and there was a classic song, ‘Wo Yao Ni.’ It was so fun, I never heard that style of music from that time. I played it for my mom and her eyes lit up and she knew all the words! She’s like ‘Your father and I used to dance to this when I was growing up in China we used to jitterbug to this, how did you find this?’
I was like ‘Well there’s this thing called Spotify…’ *laughter* But I dove deeper and found more and more songs like it. I’ve never been exposed to this classic Hollywood style of music that they had and then looking at videos and movies from that day, it was just beautiful. So to use that with modern songs, done in Chinese, just felt like something I’d hear in my household.
I wasn’t necessarily making a point until other people were listening and they were like ‘oh this is really unique, we’ve never heard that.’ It was fun to share the things I enjoy as an All-American boy — the crossover of both sides. This is what the future is coming to, we’re all human beings making art.
C: You are the director of what could very easily be one of the biggest films of 2018. What are your biggest hopes for Crazy Rich Asians?
JC: You know, it’s just one movie, one story, one perspective. I hope that it helps young or old people around the world who feel out-of-place, lonely, trying to find their cultural identity to let them know they are not alone. Everybody is trying to piece these things together, that’s why I’ve always loved movies.
These stories are what’s going to make cinemas survive.
I hope this movie continues the trend that all these other movies have done and we’ve seen through other filmmakers that it cracks this door open and it shows the big studios to spend the big money — this audience is worth spending your money and time on. These stories are what’s going to make cinemas survive.
I think it’s a gift to a medium I’ve loved since I was a kid, going into the dark, turning off the lights and saying ‘tell me a story.’ These human stories are worth your time, your money, and your energy. I’m not just a passing thing you’re watching while you’re cooking dinner. I’m hoping that bigger, better stories with more diversity can see the light and that can change the medium I love so much.