As a boy, Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan remembers shopping with visiting relatives who splurged “half a million dollars in one afternoon”.
A family connection to the Tiger Balm empire meant his childhood home, a mansion in Singapore, dripped with antiques.
His hobby: Collecting $1000 fish that now sell for $300,000.
“We were always connected to that crowd of crazy, rich Asians that travel and had houses abroad,” he tells The New Daily.
Surrounded by luxury from the day he was born, Kwan had no way of comprehending just how wealthy his family was until they moved to the US when he was 11.
It was then he realised that being chauffeured to school in a Rolls-Royce, as many of his Asian schoolmates were, was a little unusual.
“It was a rude awakening, but now I’m extremely thankful.”
Kwan drew on that lavish world to write three best-selling books, which have now spawned a movie adaptation – directed by Jon M Chu and starring an all-Asian cast – that has taken the box office by storm.
Raking in $US35 million-plus ($48 million) on its opening weekend, it maintained pole position in week two on a tiny 6 per cent drop off. In Australia, preview screenings accrued $1.8 million before it officially opened on August 30.
Kwan told The New Daily he felt like he was having “an out of body experience” when his movie became more than a hit.
“Never could I have imagined that my book and the film adaptation would become the lightning rod for a movement”.
That “movement” is the final dawning realisation by Hollywood that Asian actors are bankable stars.
Kwan was approached by a Hollywood producer even before the 2013 publication of Crazy Rich Asians, the first book in a trilogy. The producer attempted to convince him it would make a good movie if only they recast the female lead, Rachel, as white.
Kwan, appalled, refused outright.
He got his way, with Constance Wu starring as Rachel, a New York lecturer who has no idea her boyfriend Nick (Henry Golding) hails from one of Singapore’s most wealthy families until he takes her home to meet his disapproving mum, played by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Michelle Yeoh.
“Hollywood is finally taking notice, and I have great hope that this will lead to more films that tell diverse, original stories and better representation for actors of every background.”
Melbourne actor Chris Pang, 33, is one of three Aussies in the cast, alongside comedian Ronnie Cheng, and Pang and Yeoh’s Marco Polo co-star Remy Hii.
He plays Nick’s best friend Colin, at the centre of the film’s jaw-dropping wedding alongside La La Land’s Sonoya Mizuno.
“I’m so proud to be part of this,” he says. “We’ve brought the classic film that Hollywood does so well, but presented it in a new package with three Asian couples. It’s beautiful to see people absolutely drawn to it.”
Pang experienced his own crazy rich moment at the LA premiere. Jeweller Zameer Kassam offered to bling him and his partner up for the Singaporean bow.
“He had all these jewels laid out like I was in Ocean’s Eight,” Pang says. “If I just did a number on all of this, I could retire.”
Loaned a diamond lapel pin, his date ended up wearing $3.5 million worth. “It was insane.”
Pang is excited by this game-changer.
“This is going to blow the doors wide open, so I urge all the creators out there to step it up. Now’s your time.”
Melbourne-based director Corrie Chen (Homecoming Queens) hears the call. “Storytelling is a power and a privilege I hope we can harness here.”
Crazy Rich Asians met her insanely high expectations. “Seeing people who looked like me, acting with agency as the heroes of their own storyline moved me in a way I didn’t expect. Honestly, I’ve never felt cooler being Asian than right now.”
As for crazy rich behaviour, Chen says she fulfils another stereotype. “Thrifty Asian, so I’ve never done a crazy rich thing in my life. Sometimes I steal toilet paper from my parents.”