While the romance between her character Rachel Chu and the fabulously rich Nick Young (Henry Golding) is at the centre of the movie, as far as Constance Wu is concerned, Crazy Rich Asians is not a love story.
Instead, the adaptation of the bestseller by Singaporean author Kevin Kwan is a story about women and the things they sacrifice to protect men, said the 36-year-old.
“And you see that in the trifecta. You see that in Eleanor: she sacrifices bringing up Nick and giving him to Grandma so that Nick has money and a better life. Astrid sacrifices, she dims her own wealth so that Michael doesn’t feel insecure about the fact that he’s not as wealthy.
(And) Rachel lets go of Nick. She sacrifices the love of her life so that he doesn’t lose his connection to his family… if you read the book, you see that’s the recurring theme. It’s not about love. It’s about the sacrifices women are making for their men.”
Speaking to reporters on the Crazy Rich Asians set at CHIJMES in June 2017, Wu was thoughtful and considered in her responses. It is the first movie lead role for the Fresh Off The Boat star, who shot to fame with her portrayal of the matriarch Jessica Huang. Wu spoke of the “extraordinary privilege” of being part of the production and of carrying a narrative “instead of supporting somebody else’s narrative”.
She also noted the parallels between Chu, who came from “humble beginnings”, and herself. “When I was a kid, if I got an outfit from The Gap, that was considered really fancy. I hadn’t even heard of Louis Vuitton or Chanel or any of those things… Rachel’s kind of clueless when it comes to that kind of stuff. So in that way, I think I’m kind of similar to Rachel.”
The problem of representation
The movie largely features Asian and Asian-American actors such as Malaysian superstar Michelle Yeoh and Singapore’s own Pierre Png and Selena Tan. “Working with (Yeoh)… is like playing tennis with Federer… it automatically makes you better,” said Wu.
But with the movie just weeks from its release in Singapore, the controversy about representation is well and alive. Detractors note that Golding, who plays the scion of an immensely wealthy Singaporean family, is only half-Asian. Meanwhile, the first “Crazy Rich Asians” trailer in April sparked criticism that most of the characters spoke in American or British accents and did not use Singlish.
Wu has been outspoken about the issue of representation in Hollywood – when Matt Damon was cast as a mercenary defending the Great Wall in ancient China, she tweeted, “We have to stop perpetuating the racist myth that (only a white man) can save the world.”
Given the criticism of the movie, has it changed her approach to the role? Wu’s response is a careful one, echoing director Jon M. Chu’s earlier comment to Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore that “this is not the movie to solve all representation issues”.
“But you do have to start out with a single story in order to encourage more narratives to come about, so that we have narrative plentitude for Asians, Asian-Americans, British Asians,” Wu said.
“I don’t expect this show or Fresh Off The Boat to speak for every single person,” she added. “But I do hope that somebody who does not find themselves represented in Crazy Rich Asians or Fresh Off The Boat will be able to find a story or a narrative in the next two years that does speak to them, that is completely different from me.”
Adding that “my convictions have remained largely the same”, Wu declared, “People want to hate me, I want them to have the full right of their voice to express their hatred for me.”
“I hope these conversations continue, not to hurt people, but to help us all examine a little closer and realise that all of our voices have legitimacy.”
Crazy Rich Asians opens in Singapore cinemas on 22 August.