Hollywood director-producer Jon Chu held a press gathering last week at his father Larry’s iconic Chef Chu’s restaurant in Los Altos to discuss his new film, which some reviewers are calling a potential game changer for Asians in the mainstream movie industry.
There’s a lot riding on “Crazy Rich Asians,” based on author Kevin Kwan’s 2013 best-selling novel. The movie, due to hit major theaters next week, is a romantic comedy and a departure for Chu, known for his “Step Up” dance-oriented movies and a concert/documentary film on pop singer Justin Bieber. It also marks his first movie inspired by his cultural heritage and features Hollywood’s first all-Asian cast since 1993’s “The Joy Luck Club.”
Chu enjoyed a homecoming of sorts at his father’s restaurant Aug. 2, a place the Pinewood School graduate remembers for birthday parties and post-soccer game celebrations while growing up in Los Altos Hills.
“I never imagined I would have a press event here,” he smiled before a large gathering that included his father, mother Ruth and older brother Larry Jr. “And especially about a movie that is so close to my heart.”
Spotlight on culture
Chu said his new film realizes a desire to explore his cultural roots as well as satisfy his parents’ entreaties.
“My parents always told me, ‘You’ve got to make movies about China, about Chinese people in China. China is going to grow so much,’” Chu recalled. “And they were right. … When I was making a movie maybe two years ago, I thought, ‘I’m getting older, I want to have a family’ (Chu, 38, was just married July 27). I realized I wanted to tell a story about my dual cultural identity being raised here.”
Kwan’s book centers on an Asian-American professor who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend to attend his best friend’s wedding, only to discover that her boyfriend is from a “crazy rich” family. The idea of an Asian-American traveling to an Asian country for the first time appealed to Chu.
“Crazy Rich Asians was the hot book at the time (in 2013). I got emails from my sister, from my cousins, from my mom – I read it and I loved it,” he said. “It said everything about me, my family and interestingly enough, a lot of these stories are actually from stories that my cousin Vivian, who is friends with Kevin Kwan, told about her true family from Cupertino.”
A detailed article in The Hollywood Reporter last week noted that Chu and Kwan turned down a lucrative Netflix offer and opted instead for a theater release, believing the film would have a more groundbreaking impact. The article said the film’s opening weekend was “tracking” to generate approximately $20 million at the box office.
“Telling a story about my culture is personal and scary at the same time,” Chu said. “My parents gave me all the courage they could to do this type of movie – that (we’re talking about) this movie today at Chef Chu’s means everything. Spread the word about this movie – I can’t wait for you to see it. Hopefully, this will open up the door for many other stories (about Asians) that need to be told.”
“Crazy Rich Asians” is due to hit theaters Aug. 15.