With the successful weekend box office of Crazy Rich Asians, it’s safe to assume there might be a sequel in the works. Within five days of its opening, the film earned an estimated $35 million, making it number one at the box office and the best debut for a comedy this year. With the success so far, many have been predicting a sequel may be in the works.
Of course, Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan is very superstitious about the idea of sequels and told me days before the release that he hasn’t thought about it.
“I don’t want to drop the gun,” Kwan said calmly.
Since having his books on multiple bestsellers lists and Crazy Rich Asians be adapted into a film, Kwan has been moving around non-stop, writing and developing multiple projects, including a television series for Amazon Studios. “I haven’t had a vacation in five years, really. It’s been great. I can’t complain. I am really seeing the film as a dream come true.”
Kwan makes it a point to tell me that all of this didn’t happen overnight. He adds, “I’ve been working for 20 years to make this happen. People think I just got up one day, wrote a book, and made a best seller. They don’t see the 20 years behind that.”
It’s true. Kwan has been working many years to flesh out the story he wanted to tell. Having worked as a creative consultant for several media companies, Kwan eventually established his own creative studio, clients of which include the Museum of Modern Art and the New York Times. During this time, Kwan began brainstorming for his book. It wasn’t until 2010 that Kwan started writing Crazy Rich Asians after his father became ill and the two spent many hours reminiscing about their childhoods in Singapore.
Kwan, who grew up in Singapore, was part of that affluent culture and many of his characters were inspired by the people in his lives. “It was easy having grown up amongst these amazing people to draw from them as inspirations.”
We mainly talked about the amazing women in his stories. In the film adaptation, we see many of the women empowering themselves throughout the story without a man or despite a man. Kwan credits the strong women in his life for the powerful women you read in the book and see in the film.
“I think the movie has an amazing female empowerment message, and, hopefully, so do my books,” he said. “I think it comes from having been influenced by amazing, strong, kick-ass women in my life. In my family, the women have always been stronger than the men. Those were my role models in a strange way. The men were kind of passive and my grandmother was just this amazing woman who really marched to the beat of her drum starting in the 1920s. My mom is also the same. I have all these cousins and aunts who were so cool.”
Kwan is still reeling from the excitement of the film. After several of the cast and creatives appeared on the cover of The Hollywood Reporter, Kwan beamed over what director Jon M. Chu calls “a movement.”
“It’s pretty incredible. If I spent too much time thinking about it, I would just really implode. I am really proud of everyone associated with this.”
The major “moment” that hit him the most was seeing the cast and creatives heavily featured in Vanity Fair. Kwan has been a subscriber to the prestigious magazine since 1985 and had only seen privileged English, European, and American families being put in the spotlight.
“I have fantasized about this for so long. I wanted to see kick-ass cool Asian people featured in Vanity Fair,” says Kwan. “To able to be part of that narrative change and that visual change and start seeing people of color represented this way. It’s very moving for me and I feel like I’m part of this movement.”
Kwan does hope this film will lead to something more for Asian Americans in the media, but he does remain skeptical.
“Part of me being Asian American, and having been through this, I’ve lived in this country for over 30-something years, I have a fear and skepticism in a way,” Kwan admits. “Will Asians come out and really support other Asians? Because it hasn’t happened in my lifetime. But I am feeling the change. I am seeing younger and newer generations who are activated in a way that my generation was not.”
He hopes to see more Asian-led movies, television shows, books, and Asian playwrights in the future but believes it begins with community support for each other. “Because we are part of this immigrant struggle, you’re not allowed to dream outside the box. You have to do something practical. You have to do something that supports what your family wants. I was that selfish rebellious outlier. Through a conveyance of bizarre circumstances, I was allowed to actually pursue my dreams. I’m very lucky in that way. I see most kids don’t have that chance, even now.”
Kwan apologizes for going so deep in the conversation, but he feels extremely passionate about Asian American representation. After learning Kwan turned down a major payday from Netflix to produce the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy in favor of a theatrical release, I didn’t question it. When I asked about the sacrifice of a bigger payday, he quickly answered, “It didn’t seem like a sacrifice at all. It seemed like the only choice we could make.”
I then asked Kwan what his reaction was when he saw his creation come to life on the big screen. He paused and smiled, “Joy. Pure joy.”
Crazy Rich Asians is out in theaters everywhere.