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Who is Kevin Kwan?

Author Kevin Kwan poses at the premiere for

Author Kevin Kwan poses at the premiere for "Crazy Rich Asians" in Los Angeles, California, U.S., August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo   | Photo Credit: REUTERS

For the first time in 25 years, a Hollywood studio released a film with an all-Asian cast last week, a welcome dose of diversity. Warner Bros. Studio’s Crazy Rich Asians, based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 eponymous bestseller about a Chinese-American’s journey back to her roots — and great wealth — topped the box-office in North America at the opening weekend, and will be released in India next month. In Hollywood, the last film to have an all-Asian cast was the Joy Luck Club, based on Amy Tan’s book, in 1993.

What is the story?

When Nicholas Young, scion of a super-rich Chinese family in Singapore, brings home his ABC (American-born Chinese) girlfriend Rachel Chu, all hell breaks loose. Two other families get into the act, plotting and scheming to ensure Chu doesn’t stand a chance. Young hadn’t let on that he was so wealthy, and Chu is more than taken aback at the palatial home, the private plane rides and the spread of riches.

Other characters wade in, not least Astrid, the ‘It Girl’ of Singapore society, and Young’s formidable mother. As the spotlight falls on the Asian JetSet, we get a glimpse of the clash of cultures — between old and new money, non-resident and homegrown Chinese, haves and have-nots.

Why the book?

The 44-year-old Mr. Kwan was born in Singapore but moved to the U.S. when he was 11. After a degree in creative writing from the University of Houston, he shifted to Manhattan to study at the Parsons School of Design. In 2000, Mr. Kwan set up his own creative studio producing visual projects for clients including the New York Times and He soon turned to his “first love — writing” and Crazy was his debut novel. Two other books, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems complete a trilogy.

As for the subject, Mr. Kwan told Reuters there was a lot of emphasis on the economic might of China and other Asian “Tigers” but that not enough was being written from the perspective of a family story. The story is set amid the 1% very, very rich families of Asia.

In an interview to The Straits Times last year, Mr. Kwan said as a child in Singapore, he remembers going to a family friend’s house and seeing a private jet sitting in an airplane hangar next to a tennis court. At another friend’s home, he saw 15 exotic cars turned out in all colours of the rainbow. Hailing from an old Singapore family, Mr. Kwan delved into his memories of the people and the city to write the three books, the last of which was released in 2017.

How’s the film faring?

The film, directed by Jon M. Chu who is Taiwanese-American, and starring Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina and newcomer Henry Golding, has been received warmly in the U.S. as also in the home country, Singapore.

The cast was drawn from Taiwan, Britain, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, the U.S. and Australia, along with Singapore.

According to reports, Mr. Kwan and director Chu refused a seven-figure offer from streaming giant Netflix and settled for Warner Bros. because they wanted the film to release in theatres.

What does it mean?

Comparisons are already being drawn with the Black Panther (Disney), the Marvel superhero film which had a predominantly black cast and took the box-office by storm in January, becoming the 10th highest-grossing film in the U.S., and earning good revenues overseas as well. Marvel has confirmed a sequel, following the first film’s critical and financial success. After Crazy’s strong opening, Warner Bros. has said a “sequel is in development”. As for Mr. Kwan, who was picked as one of Time’s 100 most influential people this year, an insight into why his books have touched a chord comes from Ms. Wu: “Kwan doesn’t focus on making Asians cool; he focusses on making our stories whole. The bits we’re proud of, the bits we try to hide, the tremendous heart that beats underneath it all.”

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 3:50:00 AM |

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