The film version of Crazy Rich Asians – based off Kevin Kwan’s 2013 book – has already become a phenomenon and, as of this writing, hasn’t even hit theaters yet. When you talk to the film’s director, Jon Chu, he seems legitimately shocked by the overwhelming response to the film so far. It’s currently sitting on in the high 90s on Rotten Tomatoes (a first for Chu) and it’s poised to be the breakout film of this late summer. Now, he certainly felt he was doing something special, but he wasn’t expecting this response.
Before Crazy Rich Asians, Chu, almost strangely, found himself doing a lot of sequel-to-studio movies in which he didn’t direct the first film of a franchise. For instance, Chu directed the second and third entries in the Step Up films (which both outperformed the Channing Tatum-starring original), and also found himself at the helm of the part-reboot, part-sequel G.I. Joe: Retaliation (to this day Chu doesn’t quite understand how something can be both a reboot and a sequel), and Now You See Me 2. And both of these films grossed similar numbers to their predecessors. The only box office dud on Chu’s filmography is Jem and the Holograms, a film Chu now jokes about – because it’s a lot easier to joke about a misfire when you have a film like Crazy Rich Asians coming.
The path to Crazy Rich Asians has been well-documented over the last couple of weeks. Chu was basically hand-picked to direct this romantic comedy about an economics professor named Rachel (Constance Wu) who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend, Nick (Henry Golding), and discovers he’s from a very wealthy family and that his family is not fond of Rachel’s outsider status. More importantly, it’s the first film with an entirely Asian main cast in almost 30 years. And it’s a very large cast with a lot of characters to service. But Chu learned a lesson from, of all things, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, on what to do and what not to do when it came to making Crazy Rich Asians.
I feel you’ve had a nice couple of weeks. You’re everywhere right now.
It’s been overwhelming. Already the amount of gratitude and emotion I’ve gotten from people, things I didn’t expect, it’s been very overwhelming. I cry every four hours.
That’s actually a lot.
I’ll read something online and it just something that touches me. Like someone who buys tickets for people who can’t afford it. There’s a dumpling house that will give you a free drink if you bring in a ticket stub from Crazy Rich Asians. This isn’t like studio-done stuff, this is people on their own. I went into a Chinese restaurant down the street from me last night and they came up after and they were like, “We are so excited for your movie and we are really rooting for it.” I thought this was a movie where it would be fine and maybe people show up, maybe they don’t, but the emotional aspect has been amazing.
So when you first signed on, there wasn’t an inkling of “my life might change after this one?”
No, I never thought that. I thought that I had to do it and it felt right for me as an artist and I had to make sure I’m still an artist, because I’d been doing a lot of franchise-y stuff – which I love and I won’t ever stop – but I just wanted to know that I had something to contribute to this medium I loved. I didn’t know if I just grew up and lost it or, I don’t know, I just needed to be inspired again. And the book had so much personal connection. Not the “crazy rich” part, but being an Asian-American. It was the Rachel Chu journey that I actually wanted to write myself about my own journey, but didn’t because it was too personal. But I was very prepared emotionally that no one would see this movie.