Crazy Rich Asians: Is the Movie Based on a True Story?

The romantic comedy ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ follows Constance Wu’s young Chinese American professor, Rachel Chu, who finds herself surrounded by the luxurious world of Singapore’s wealthy class while balancing her relationship with her boyfriend, Nick, whose roots lie within the elites. Helmed by Jon M. Chu, the 2018 film received rave reviews from audiences and critics alike and is well known for establishing a new benchmark for diversity in Hollywood. It became the 19th highest-grossing romantic comedy at the time of release and the highest of the 2010s, which raised the audience’s interest in live-action Asian content. Viewers were also taken aback by the extravaganza of weddings, wardrobes, vacations, and even the everyday lifestyle of Asia’s billionaires as shown in the film. The curiosity led many to wonder whether the film’s characters or lavishness of this kind exists in the real world.

Crazy Rich Asians is Partially Based on its Author’s Life

‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is indeed inspired by real-life events, albeit with some creative interpretation. The film is adapted from a 2013 novel of the same name, written by Kevin Kwan. The Singapore-born American author based the novel on his personal childhood experiences, in an attempt to give a tease about the richness of Singapore and its wealthiest, that he witnessed. Kwan based some of the characters on his acquaintances, while most are completely fictional. He has opted not to disclose the real-world identities of his characters, though he claims none of them have identified themselves yet or chose not to confront him.

Kwan used to live with his paternal grandparents before he moved with his parents to the United States at the age of 11. The clan seen in the film has several real-life counterparts in the author’s own extended family. Kwan based Remy Hii’s character Alistair Cheng, Nick’s filmmaker cousin, on himself, not taking the central space in the story. He has also spoken about his mother recognizing several of the book’s tales, which she had been a part of, in the real world. Interestingly, the film’s director, Jon M. Chu, is also a part of the story universe, as within the novels, he is mentioned to be a distant cousin of Rachel.

Kwan’s great-grandfather, Oh Sian Guan, was among the founding fathers of the Oversea-Chinese Banking Corporation, the oldest bank in Singapore. His grandfather, Sir Arthur Kwan Pah Chien, M.D., was a renowned doctor and the first in his country to become a Western-trained specialist. For his philanthropic deeds, he received a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth II. Kwan’s paternal grandmother, Egan Oh, Lady Kwan, also belonged to an upper-class family. She also became a socialite following her marriage to Sir Arthur.

Kwan’s great aunt Margaret Kwan Fu Shing and her husband, Dr. Hu Tsai Kuen, were among the inventors of Tiger Balm. The couple lived in a palace that previously belonged to the Sultan of Johor. His maternal grandfather, Reverend Paul Hang Sing Hon, was the founder of Hinghwa Methodist Church. Additionally, Singapore’s former Minister for Finance, Richard Hu, was a cousin of his father.

Crazy Rich Asians is an Epic Satire of Singapore’s Wealthiest

In 2009, while reminiscing about their lives in Singapore with his father, Samuel Kwan, who was battling cancer at the time, Kwan began writing ‘Crazy Rich Asians,’ to preserve those memories. Unfortunately, his father passed away the following year. Kwan wanted to portray a more rich side of Asia that he found was missing from most art and media of the time. He based the book’s showy nature on his experiences, that he described as an “excuse to gossip and show off jewelry.” The author shared further details about his family via a memoir, written for Town & Country. He emphasized the luxuriousness of his surroundings, which he could not forget even decades later.

Michelle Yeoh in Crazy Rich Asians

The film’s eye candy props and set pieces, no matter how extravagant they seem, were all based on actual stuff Kwan had found himself between. He further revealed that his editor had even suggested cutting some of the vivid descriptions, finding them unbelievable. Even for the film’s producers, bringing the elitists’ life to the screen was far from budget-friendly, as they ended up shooting most of the movie in Malaysia. Kwan provided his family albums, so the film could feel more real and nostalgic to him.

The grandeur decorations and antique furnishings of the Young family’s ancestral home, owned in the film by Michelle Yeoh’s Eleanor, Nick’s mother, were, inspired by his grandparents’ estate. The art directors paid homage to Kwan’s ancestors by featuring actual portraits of his grandparents at the top of the staircase, in the Carousel Park scene of the film. The at-home shark tank at Awkwafina’s character, Goh Peik Lin’s house, was based on Kwan’s memories of visiting a friend, whose estate had a pound filled with baby sharks.

Michelle Yeoh, Henry Golding and Constance Wu in Crazy Rich Asians

To prevent glorifying wealth with his book, the writer ended up forming a fictional story about this world, while also inventing a Chinese American protagonist. In both the book and the movie, the character of Rachel is smartly utilized to act as a lens, who is also able to watch through the surface, directly into the hearts of the wealthy, rather than being in awe or jealousy of their wealth. The lens works wonders, prompting ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ to smoothly balance the rom-com plot with the novel’s satirical tone while pointing out the absurdity of some of the expensive elements.

Read More: Best Family Movies on Paramount+