Heralded by Time magazine as "the movie which will change Hollywood", the upcoming rom-com Crazy Rich Asians, based on the international best-seller by Kevin Kwan, is a satire on Singapore's 1 per cent.

Not since The Joy Luck Club, 25 years ago, has a movie featured an almost all-Asian cast, and film-makers are hoping this will mark the first step towards more cultural diversity and opportunity in Hollywood.

Director Jon M. Chu (G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Now You See Me 2) jumped at the chance to make a movie whose subject matter was close to home.

"I was looking for a movie that spoke to my dual cultural identity. I grew up in a Chinese restaurant. My mom and dad came from China when they were 19, 20 years old, and I'm from California, an all-American kid who grew up playing sports," he says. "But I always felt like I had to choose between one or the other."

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Crazy Rich Asians

is emblematic of the struggles faced by just about any minority group.

Clearly a personal issue for Wu, he explains, "You're scared that people might think you're weird. In grade school, my parents came to the class for Chinese New Year. They brought dancers, they brought chocolates in gold wrapping, they brought red envelopes with a little money in it, and then all of a sudden I was the most popular kid in school," he laughs.

"It was about understanding that it wasn't just this weird thing. I tried to take that approach in this movie, that it's actually a great adventure [for the audience] to come with me to Singapore and explore this world."

Budgeted at US$30 million, the story follows an American-born Chinese economics professor (Constance Wu), who travels to Singapore to attend the wedding of her boyfriend's (Henry Golding) best friend. She discovers his family is "crazy rich" and that she is in a relationship with "the Prince William of Asia's most eligible bachelors".

Wu, 36, a relative newcomer, is best known for the television series Fresh off the Boat. "This is my first studio film and I get to be the star of it. It's crazy."

She is fully appreciative of winning the proverbial lottery. "When you grow up in a place where your face is not a part of dominant culture, it shapes your identity [but] not in a good or bad way. I'm so proud we get to explore this subject in the movie.

"I feel like I'm a part of a movement. Even those who feel that Asian-Americans are not represented accurately [in this film], they're a part of the movement, too, because they're making their voices heard."

Crazy Rich Asians explores the lavish lifestyle of Singapore's super rich.
Crazy Rich Asians explores the lavish lifestyle of Singapore's super rich.

The cast includes Michelle Yeoh (Crouching Dragon, Hidden Tiger), rapper Awkwafina (Ocean's Eight), comedian Ken Jeong (The Hangover), and the latest addition to Hollywood, Golding, whose burgeoning career has landed him the romantic lead opposite Blake Lively and Anna Kendrick in the upcoming thriller, A Simple Favor.

Until his acting debut in Crazy Rich Asians, he was a model and TV host. But then director Chu came knocking. "I was a journalist and travel host on the BBC and the Discovery channel for eight years. I was very hesitant to become an actor, but Jon said, 'You are right for the role.' So I was four days into my honeymoon in Cape Town and Jon called and said, 'You have to leave! Warner Bros needs you to screen test immediately. I promise you it will be worth it.' And then I landed the most coveted role in the Asian community."

Handsome and square-jawed, Golding, 29, is of mixed heritage – his mother is Malaysian and his father British. Raised in both countries, he says: "I had to grow up not white enough for some and not Asian enough for others, but the timing for me to become an actor is right. I've come to the industry at a time when you don't have to have blond hair, blue eyes, and be bursting with muscles.

On the subject of racial and cultural diversity, how does he explain his surname? "Golding is really darn Jewish, isn't it?" he laughs. "My grandfather during the war was in London and as the story goes, he was possibly adopted by a Jewish family by that name. Out of respect he took on their name and it was passed down." He smiles. "So, I'm proud to be an honorary Jew."

As an indication that society is now more accepting of people's differences, in A Simple Favor, Golding was not assigned a stereotypical role and his ethnicity was never mentioned. "I hope that I continue to play colourblind roles. It's a new generation of possibilities, and there are wonderful stories to be told."

Former model and BBC host Henry Golding makes his acting debut in Crazy Rich Asians.
Former model and BBC host Henry Golding makes his acting debut in Crazy Rich Asians.

There was much ado when Chu turned down a lucrative Netflix deal in favour of a wide release through cinemas. It was important for him to prove society's interest in Asian-centric movies.

He says, "Don't get me wrong, I love Netflix and there are 86 hundred million subscribers. That is an amazing power. But we wanted to prop up Asian romantic leads and say, 'We can be in movie theatres - we are worth your time to leave your house, struggle with parking, stand in line for food, sit in the dark with your friends and family, turn off the lights, and say, 'Tell me a story.'"

After a five-day opening in the US grossing US$34 million at the box office, all signs indicate that Chu will achieve his goals in setting a precedent for more racially-diverse films to come.

LOWDOWN:
Who: Director Jon G. Chu
What: Crazy Rich Asians
When: In cinemas next Thursday