Kevin Kwan’s debut novel was snapped up by The Hunger Games producer Nina Jacobson just four months after hitting shelves in 2013, and it’s not hard to see why: The real-life, jaw-dropping opulence of Asia’s über-rich practically begs to be splashed on the big screen. In the book, Kwan details outrageous luxuries, from climate-controlled closets packed with next season’s couture pieces (why, of course!) to yachts equipped with swimming pools (yes, more than one!) and even to private planes with state-of-the-art yoga studios and heated floors (why not?!). His subjects aren’t just crazy rich, but filthy, unspeakably, hilariously rich.
The story’s even crazier. Directed by Jon M. Chu (Now You See Me 2), Crazy Rich Asians follows Rachel Chu (Fresh Off the Boat‘s Constance Wu), an NYU economics professor who heads to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick Young (newcomer Henry Golding), for what she thinks will be an ordinary visit to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding, only to discover that — alamak! — he’s the multi-zillionaire son of one of the most affluent families in Asia and the wedding they’re headed to is the social event of the year. To make things worse, the social circles of the 1 percent of the 1 percent are less than welcoming of Rachel when she arrives. And so, between billionaire bullies, shopping sprees without credit-card limits, and a wedding to end all weddings, Rachel gets put through the Singapore slinger.
Yet the craziest part of Warner Bros.’ Crazy Rich Asians, slated for an Aug. 17 release, isn’t the fact that its decadence makes Versailles look like a Red Roof Inn; it’s that it boasts an all-Asian cast, a rare commodity in an industry that’s still working on breaking its habit of “whitewashing” (i.e. casting white actors in ethnically Asian roles). Few Hollywood films have exclusively featured Asian principal casts since The Joy Luck Club more than two decades ago — a fact Michelle Yeoh, an Asian superstar with just a handful of lead roles in Hollywood productions, understands well. “It’s been too long since there’s been an all-Asian cast,” says the Malaysia-born actress, who stars as Nick’s intimidating 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.”
In this week’s cover story, EW dives into the making of the film, from Kwan’s first meetings with eager producers to Chu’s ambitious mission to cast responsibly, and finally, to filming on location amid the splendor of Singapore and Malaysia. The author and director weren’t the only ones with stories to share of the book’s move from the page to the screen; Wu, Golding, Yeoh, and fellow cast members Gemma Chan, Sonoya Mizuno, Awkwafina, and Ken Jeong also reflect on what it was like to not be the only Asian face on set.
Of course, Crazy Rich Asians is still nine months away. Closer on the horizon are the films of this holiday season, and this issue also previews the most highly anticipated titles, including Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Coco, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, The Greatest Showman, and The Shape of Water, along with a profile on indie star and scribe Greta Gerwig, whose directorial debut Lady Bird hits theaters Friday.
Take a look at the decadent cover below:
by Shirley Li