It was the first movie to feature an all-Asian cast in 25 years, but now, Crazy Rich Asians director Jon M Chu has expressed regret at how he cast South Asian actors in the groundbreaking film.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel of the same name, the 2018 romantic comedy stars Constance Wu as Chinese-American university lecturer Rachel, who travels to Singapore to meet the wealthy family of her boyfriend, Nick, played by Henry Golding.
While Crazy Rich Asians was a critical and commercial success, it also received its share of criticism for using only East Asian protagonists, despite Indians being the third-largest ethnic group in Singapore. The film only used South Asian actors in stereotypical roles, such as domestic workers and guards.
Speaking to news publication Insider, Chu said he understood the criticism, calling it a learning experience. He also said he should have made the South Asian characters in the film "more human".
“That’s a lesson that I did not understand until it happened,” Chu said. “I was like, ‘This is a book that exists and I’m making this book into a movie.’ I can’t add a new character into this book.”
Chu references a scene from the film in which Rachel and Peik Lin (Awkwafina) get lost while driving to a party, when suddenly they are surrounded by Sikh guards with large rifles. The men barely have any dialogue and are made out to be imposing figures.
“Looking back, I should have had a joke there [for the guards] being like, ‘These idiots'. There’s stuff to do to make them more human instead of just like these guards.”
He also admitted that while he cast South Asian actors to attend a huge party sequence, he did nothing to "accent it in any way" so their presence could be felt in the scene.
“They’re just sort of there,” he said. “I don’t give them the space to be there.”
In 2018, when the film was released, Chu told entertainment website Deadline that it would be unfair for the film, which earned more than $238 million globally at the box office, to represent all Asian people.
"One movie that represents [all] Asians – that's just ridiculous," Chu said. "However, if this can crack the door a little bit so that other stories can be told, and it spawns a resurgence in these stories getting shown at the highest levels possible – I would love to have this.
"Listen, we need to have more movies, you need to have more filmmakers so that it doesn't rest on one movie."
It seems Chu might get his wish, as it's been reported that a sequel based on Kwan's 2015 novel, China Rich Girlfriend, is in development with Warner Bros.
The novel is set two years after Crazy Rich Asians and continues the story of Nick and Rachel and their contentious relationship with Nick's mother, Eleanor, played by Michelle Yeoh in the film. Chu is set to return to direct the sequel.