The Story Behind “Crazy Rich Asians”

Surely you’ve seen the trailer, or at least a commercial, of the huge movie that has quickly made its way to the top of the US box office, "Crazy Rich Asians." Released on August 15th, 2018, this hit was adapted from an international best-selling book with the same title. Kevin Kwan, a Singapore native, wrote the novel all the way back in 2013. Since then, the novel has been circulating the entire world. Warner Bros. has the option for Kevin Kwan’s entire trilogy, which includes 2015’s "China Rich Girlfriend" and 2017’s "Rich People Problems." Although the sequel for "Crazy Rich Asians" has not been greenlit yet, Warner Bros.' is now moving forward with development on the follow-up, with plans to reunite the first movie's original team.

Still from "Crazy Rich Asians" (2018). Courtesy of Warner Bros.

The book and its success

Kwan saw an important gap in the entertainment and publishing industries in North America - there were no popular contemporary Asian stories out there. Still today, most don’t make it to North America. When the movie was released this month, it marked an important milestone in the entertainment history, being the first film with an all-Asian cast in over 25 years. The last movie that featured a predominantly Asian cast was Disney’s “The Joy Luck Club.”

The story behind the story is definitely a cultural win, but the series of books and the movie are popular for many more reasons. The book became an international best-seller because it focused on a unique set of characters and their actions, emotions, and the conflicts that typical Asian-Americans face. There is also a good amount of comedy intertwined into the story. This concept is so unique, that ‘rotten tomatoes’ gave it a 96% uniqueness rating.

The story is a twist on the classic trope of rags to riches, being that the typical middle-class girlfriend is surprised when she goes to meet her boyfriend's family in Singapore and finds out that they are one of the richest and most prestigious families there. Don’t worry, no spoilers here.

Kevin Kwan: The creator of ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

Kwan is a brilliant author who wrote "Crazy Rich Asians" as the first novel in a trilogy series. The debut novel in the series didn’t take long to gain steam and become an international best-seller. Then, the two books mentioned above came as sequels. But, what did Kevin Kwan do before he became an enormously famous author and executive producer of a smash hit movie based on his own novel?

Kevin Kwan is from Singapore, where he grew up until his family moved to Texas when he was 11. His life in Singapore was quite extravagant. His family was one of the most prominent families there at the time, so his inside knowledge of the wealthy families in that area and the rest of China helped him create the stories he wrote.

He attended the University of Houston at Clear-Lake and The Parsons School of Design in Manhattan, New York. After Kevin Kwan finished his education, he actually went to work for Interview Magazine, which was famously created and ran by Andy Warhol. Using his amazing photography talents, he worked for Martha Stewart Living for a brief time. Then, he opened his own photography design studio and brought in big clients such as the Museum of Modern Art, Ted.com, and The New York Times. Needless to say, Kevin Kwan’s career was quite well established even before "Crazy Rich Asians" was created.

Another fun, but weird fact about Kevin Kwan is that he is actually a wanted fugitive in Singapore. The movie "Crazy Rich Asians" was released in Singapore in August of 2018 and he couldn’t show up to the premiere because he would be arrested for not signing up for the National Service in Singapore. This law states that every able-bodied male must serve at least two years in a public service position. Because Kevin Kwan did not enlist in the National Service, he can face a large fine or even up to 3 years of imprisonment if he is caught in Singapore and found guilty.

The heartbreaking inspiration

Back in 2009, Kevin Kwan was caring for his father, who was battling an aggressive cancer. Kevin would often care for him in his father’s home, helping him with anything he needed, and would take him to and from appointments at the cancer clinic where he received treatment. Kevin would often make his father tell him stories about their early life back in Singapore, and about the history and all the wonderful achievements of everyone in the family. It was during these conversations that the idea of writing these stories down began.

With a little help from his friends, Kevin soon began to write all the lavish stories his father told him during the time he cared for him. Using all the information he gathered from his father, Kevin pieced together a novel and shopped it to publishers in 2012.

There are still many members of Kevin Kwan’s family that hold esteemed positions in Singapore, and own large companies and other rather successful ventures.

Even before the novel was released, it received extreme praise from critics and early readers all around the world. It was immediately destined to be a huge hit, an instant classic.

What’s next for Kevin Kwan and the book series?

Nothing is set in stone, but many people say that readers and others who love the movie can expect the other books in the series, “China Rich Girlfriend” and “Rich People Problems,” to be made into movies as well. Or, to at least expect another Kevin Kwan story made into a movie.

Just after the movie was released, in August 2018, Amazon Studios struck a deal with Kevin Kwan to create a drama story about a rich family in Hong Kong, China. It has yet to be confirmed whether it will be a movie or a series, but the deal has been confirmed at least.