“Crazy Rich Asians” danced gracefully toward its premiere date last Wednesday, buoyed by a bounty of positive press.
The romantic comedy, based on Kevin Kwan’s best-selling novel by the same name, boasts a 93 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Critics have called it an excellently-made, touching movie, but it’s also been cited as a step forward in representation for its all-Asian main cast. It’s the first “major Hollywood film set in the present day [that] showcased a majority Asian cast,” according to the New York Times, and “the first romantic comedy with Asian leads since 1961’s “Flower Drum Song,” The Post noted.
And the movie’s opening weekend box office numbers lived up to the hype, as it earned $35.3 million since its Wednesday opening, $26.5 million of it during the weekend, according to the Hollywood Reporter.
The movie, made on a $30 million budget, was the only rom-com with a $20 million-plus opening in three years, according to Variety — since Amy Schumer’s “Trainwreck,” which had a $30.1 million three-day opening. By comparison, 2018 rom-com “Overboard” earned $14.7 million in its three-day opening and “I Feel Pretty” earned $16 million.
Director Jon M. Chu’s film almost didn’t have an opening weekend at all — it came close to being released through Netflix. The streaming service found itself in the middle of a bidding war with Warner Bros. for the movie whose casting is so unusual that the New York Times described it as a “cinematic Halley’s comet.”
“I could have moved to an island and never worked another day,” Kwan told the Hollywood Reporter of the payday Netflix offered. “But Jon and I both felt this sense of purpose. We needed this to be an old-fashioned cinematic experience, not for fans to sit in front of a TV and just press a button.”
“We were gifted this position to make a decision no one else can make, which is turning down the big payday for rolling the dice [on the box office] — but being invited to the big party, which is people paying money to go see us,” Chu added.
That dice-roll paid off.
Nearly 40 percent of the movie’s audience has been Asian, with white people making up 41 percent of ticket buyers, according to the Hollywood Reporter. Consider that, according to the 2010 Census, 5.8 percent of Americans were of Asian origin.
The hunger for such a movie was palpable long before its release — leading many to wonder what took Hollywood so long.
Many writers, such as The Post’s Allyson Chiu, have penned first-person essays about how much the existence of the film meant to them. Wrote Chiu on the day the trailer was released, “I’ve watched it more than 10 times already.”
“From what I can tell, based on the book and the trailer, this is an event I’ve been waiting for: a film with Asian characters who are more like me,” she added.
The movie has also been praised for its specificity to Asian culture, such as a pivotal scene centered on the Chinese game mahjong.
“One of the most beautiful things about ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is how it refuses to explain many of its most intrinsically Asian elements,” wrote Jeff Yang on the blog Angry Asian Man. “But there’s one scene in particular that has been resiliently enigmatic to audiences of many backgrounds, both Asian and non-Asian … and it’s a pivotal one: The mahjong scene.”
“I felt so happy as someone with some mahjong skills when I saw that scene near the end,” tweeted journalist Bourree Lam.
And Korean American singer Eric Nam — along with his brothers Eddie and Brian — were so invested in the movie that they bought out an entire screening at an Atlanta theater.
Whether the film’s success will lead to more diverse casting across the board remains to be seen. Hollywood tends to move slowly with regards to increasing representation, but the overwhelming success of movies featuring diverse casts, such as this one, “Get Out” and “Black Panther,” might have some studio executives reconsidering the old norms.
Correction: An earlier version of this post misspelled Jeff Yang’s last name. The article has been updated.