Falling in Love with Author Kevin Kwan and his Crazy Rich Asians

Crazy Rich Asians is an Engaging and Hilarious Film About Zany Families and Young LoveEven though Kevin Kwan is an international best-selling author whose brilliant romantic comedy is opening on the big screen, this master wordsmith still has family members who don’t quite understanding his high-profile writing career.

All of this makes a great deal of sense when it comes to his mega-hit 2013 novel Crazy Rich Asians, and the colorful, romantic and poignant new Warner Bros. movie of the same name, which makes its debut on Wednesday, August 15.

The movie takes a fun, engaging, and hilarious look at what can happen when young love collides with old money.

Crazy Rich Asians is a juicy, unique, and charming comedy that will make you laugh and shed a tear for its romantic soul. Much like the book of the same name, this movie is a delicious guilty pleasure that you do not want to miss this summer!”

Kwan was also chosen as one of Time Magazine’s Most Influential People of 2018. The sequel to his first novel, China Rich Girlfriend, also became a smash hit around the world, and the final book in the trilogy, Rich People Problems, was released to great fanfare in May 2017. Kwan’s trilogy of novels has already been translated into more than 20 languages.

Despite his many successful novels, a new Amazon television series in the works, and his delightful summer romp of a movie Kwan says he sometimes feels like he is living someone else’s big life.

The movie follows New Yorker Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she accompanies her boyfriend, Singapore’s native son, Nick Young (Henry Golding) to his best friend’s wedding in Singapore.

Although they have dated for a while, Henry has failed to tell his girlfriend a few key details about his life – not only is he the heir to one of Asia’s wealthiest families, but he is also one of the most sought-after bachelors in the world.

Being with Nick clearly puts a target on Rachel’s back, with jealous socialites, and Nick’s disapproving and protective mother (Michelle Yeoh) putting up roadblocks to thwart the lovely courtship.

The story is about feeling out of place, confident in some moments and self-conscious in others, being on the outside while trying to find common ground.

It soon becomes crystal clear that the only thing crazier than love, is family, in this funny and romance story that is sure to ring true for audiences everywhere, regardless of their background or heritage.Kwan served as an executive producer on the film and makes a cameo in the beginning, but he did not write the script.

However, he did, consult on a myriad of details from character to costumes, location to design, and shared his private family albums to inspire the design teams. He even put the filmmakers in touch with a private watch collector who loaded the production a prized high-end timepiece that arrived with its own security escort.

The film’s director, Jon M Chu, calls Kwan, “the best creative partner.”

The next chapter in Kwan’s life will focus on his latest project, a script-to-series from Amazon Studios for a new dramatic series for STX Entertainment.  The new show, which does not yet have a title, is a globe-hopping drama set among Hong Kong’s most influential and powerful family and the business empire they control. Will Graham (Mozart in the Jungle) will supervise the series co-created and co-written by Kwan and David Sangalli.

Kwan was born and raised in Singapore, where he attended Anglo-Chinese School in the mornings and spent his afternoons either hiding from his Chinese tutor or chasing after neighborhood dogs on his bike.

When he was 11, he moved to the United States, where got through high school by reading F. Scott Fitzgerald and Joan Didion, and had long yearned to live in New York, where he now resides.

After obtaining his first degree in creative writing from the University of Houston, Kevin moved to Manhattan to pursue a BFA at Parsons School of Design. Kwan’s early years in the city were spent working for Martha Stewart Living, Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine, and the M&Co, the legendary design firm founded by Tibor Kalman.

In 2000, Kwan established his own creative studio, where he specialized in producing high profile visual projects for clients such as the New York Times, the Museum of Modern Art, Rockwell Group, and TED.com.

Many unforgettable experiences followed, like creating the ultimate publishing tribute to Oprah Winfrey’s groundbreaking television show, handling Elizabeth Taylor’s fabled jewel collection while producing Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry and serving as the visual consultant for the re-launch of the TED website, which exceeded a billion views in November 2012.Throughout all this, Kwan always remained passionate about books. As he became sought after as a visual consultant by acclaimed authors like Michael Korda, Gore Vidal, and Larry McMurtry, Kwan was inspired to return to his first love—writing.

During a recent visit to Center City, Philadelphia, Kwan and one of the stars of the movie, Jimmy Q. Yang, enjoyed a $120 cheesesteak at the posh Barclay Prime, (complete with a bottle of champagne).

During a chat at the Hotel Monaco on a steamy summer afternoon Kwan spoke easily to about his books, his new movie, and how his stories get to the heart of family dynamics and resonate with families from many cultures.Kwan has experience in understanding the wonders of having a close family, but that they can also drive you nuts. He spoke about the importance of pursuing your creative dreams, in spite of the naysayers that try to get in the way and following your heart and passion to make your dreams come true.

Crazy Rich Asians is a beautiful movie and I am now reading the book. It was touching, unique, romantic and the characters are well drawn. The music was also amazing. Please talk about the universal aspect of the family in the book and movie.

Kevin Kwan:Well, I think the scenes are completely universal. And this is something I’ve been hearing since 2013, when my book first came out and became best-sellers around the world.  I would go to readings in Mumbai, India.  I would also do readings in Zurich.

What happened?

KK: Well, over and over, people come to me and say, ‘We’re not Asian, we’re not rich, but man, my family is just like your crazy family that you write about in your books.’ I think these themes of love, and acceptance, and family, and issues of wealth; they come up in every culture.When the mom says to the girlfriend, ‘you’re not good enough,’ everybody in the audience gasped because that is just so harsh.  And in most worlds, this beautiful, well-educated New York University economics professor would’ve been good enough.  But again, everybody has their parameters.

KK: Very true.

Did you do a lot of research for this work?  You said you grew up knowing this world.  What kind of research did you have to do?

 KK:  I did absolutely no research whatsoever.  It just sort of poured out of me.

 What did your own family think of the book?

 KK:  There are two camps.  There’s the camp that hasn’t read it, and doesn’t understand the fuss, and will probably never read it.  I think they’re sort of embarrassed to be associated with me.  And then there’s another camp who have read the book, really enjoyed it, and are immensely excited to see what happens.

We all have a fascination with wealthy people and  celebrities.  Why was that important in the story?

 KK:  Well, for me, just in writing the book, I was going back to what I was trying to get out of…When I studied creative writing back in university, and my professor was always saying, ‘Write your truth. So, for three decades, I didn’t write my truth.  I wrote a book about Cuba.  I wrote a book about luck.  I would write extremely depressing stories about lots of different things, but I never wanted to look at my truth and where I came from.

Why is that?

KK: There was a shame associated with talking about my family; about the fact that I came from a privileged background.  But I finally decided to just do it and write the story that was very intimate to me based on a world that I knew and grew up in.

 I have to say that everybody was cheering or dancing when they left the theater at the screening I saw.  The woman in front of me was crying a lot and so was her husband, even though he really didn’t want to admit it.

 KK: I’m so glad you enjoyed it.

What was important to you that the movie do or say, and did it exceed your expectations?  How involved were you?

 KK:  I was very, very involved from the very beginning in every creative aspect of the film, and it even – Being involved, and even seeing it unfold the way it is, I’m exceedingly happy with how it turned out.  It’s beyond all my expectations.  I think Jon really took my story and just transformed it in a whole new way that made it interesting for me to watch.What do you remember about this experience?

KK: The first time I saw the movie, I think 20 minutes into the movie, I forgot that I had anything to do with this story whatsoever.  I just got caught up in what was unfolding on screen.  But for me, I never want to be precious with the adaptation, that it needed to be a word for word transliteration onto screen of what my book was. I really gave them the freedom to just really go play and really channel the joy of the story.  Ultimately, that was the most important thing to me, that he made a movie that just brought people joy.

 How has your life changed since 2013, when your book Crazy Rich Asians came out? 

 KK: My life has changed in every possible way.  Before 2013, I was a creative consultant.  I worked behind the scenes on a lot of projects for famous people, never ever wanting to be into that limelight.  And now, I have to reckon with occasionally being recognized, occasionally having to do public things like what we’re doing this week.  I’m very introverted by nature, actually.

What is that like having fans and super fans?

KK: It’s very surreal.  It still boggles me that anyone has actually gone into a bookstore, picked up the book, and paid for it and read it out of their own volition.

What did these fans say to you?  Have you done many book signings?

KK: Oh, yeah.  I’ve done hundreds of book signings at this point around the world.  It’s interesting how the fan base has really morphed and evolved.  When the books first came out, believe it or not, Asians were not reading the books.  I think especially in the US, Asian-Americans, naturally, I think were suspicious about a book titled Crazy Rich Asians.Why do you think this happened?

KK: Well, I think as a culture, Asian-Americans are so used to seeing themselves portrayed badly or portrayed inaccurately that I think my book was kind of ignored by the Asian-American community.  But it was embraced by the New York fashion crowd.  Anna Wintour of Vogue was the first person to really take it up and say ‘we’re going to excerpt this in Vogue.’ So, it got a little traction in the media world, and I would just do readings all over the nation, and be reading to rooms full of just lovely, white people who loved the book because it was so exotic.  It was telling a story that was familiar but in a whole new way.  They were fascinated by this world that I let them into.

Then it changed?

KK: Yes, then slowly, I think there was a trickledown effect because word of mouth spread, and more and more Asians began picking up the book – Asian-Americans.  And so, you fast forward from my first reading to the first book where it was just a sea of white faces, to the second book and there are a few more Asian faces scattered here and there, but they wouldn’t talk; to my last tour last year, it would be half and half.  I would see half the room full of Asian-Americans or Asian-Canadians, or Asian-Australians, and they all wanted to talk.

What did they wanted to share with you?

KK: They all wanted to talk about their experience of this book, especially for the younger generation, the generation that didn’t grow up reading Joy Luck Club.  This has become a seminal book for them.  Because as a girl at a reading told me, ‘Thank you for writing a book that finally makes me proud of who I am.’  And that really hit home for me.

How long a shoot was this movie? And where was it shot?

KKAbout two and a half months. In Singapore and Malaysia.

Has anybody ever said to you at any point in your journey you’re not good enough?  And how did you respond?

KK:  In my journey starting from when the book was published, or just my journey through life?

Your journey through life.

KK:  All the time. Still…

So. when you walk by Barnes & Noble, or wherever in Canada and around, and you see these – that’s sort of my dream.  You walk by the window and there’s a hundred of your books and a thousand people in line, how does that feel?

KK:  Disbelief, it really is.  I still really am shocked by it all, because I never even intended for this book to be published, quite frankly.

Why?

KK:  I just honestly didn’t think anyone would be interested aside from a few friends.  And so, I was writing it strictly as a hobby, really, just to kill time and to just try something new.  It really stretched my own creative muscles.  And then a friend, basically, she pulled me, strong armed me into showing it to an Asian and then it just snowballed from there.Do you have a story that epitomizes what the book and movie are all about?

KK: Yes. I did a talk and a signing at Google about two years ago, at the Google headquarters, and I thought it would be fun to invite my mom because she had recently gotten her first iPad and was discovering the joys of Google and everything.  And you know, she spent all her time at that signing, going up and down the line, asking everyone if they could give me a job.

Did she not understand that you were doing something so unique, and exciting, and creative – and succeeding at it on a major level?

 KK:  No, and she still doesn’t.

 I definitely need to call her.  I definitely need to call her.  What’s next?  Do you have the next project ready?

 KK:  I’m going to start working on the new novel, and I’m also in the middle of I’m writing a TV show.

 Very cool.  I’m really into Netflix, and it’s very dangerous because I have a lot of work to do.  And once I love something, I just fall in.

 KK:  You binge, you binge.

 I binge, you know.  I cannot watch one episode at a time.

 KK: Right, just one more. And the next thing you know it’s 5:00 a.m.  and…

 Yeah.  I’m currently binge-watching Orange is the New Black, and I’m waiting for Ozark, and Grace and Frankie, and lots of other favorite shows.

 KK:  Have you seen The OA?

 I have not.  I’m writing it down.

 KK:  Okay, that’s another one.  That’s another rabbit hole you’ll fall down.

 So, you really had $120 cheesesteak at Barclay Prime during your trip to Philadelphia?

 KK: Yes.  It was very good.

 Anything else you will have time to do when you’re here, or is it just work?

 KK:  We’re going to a screening and meeting people, and it will be fun to always see the reaction, since it’s still very novel for me to meet people who have seen the movie.  I would love more time in Philadelphia.  I’ve heard so many great things about the city, and  I haven’t been here in 20 years.

So, what kept you from giving up when people don’t believe in you and times get tough? Or when your own mother thinks you should work at Google. What advice do you have for others who have big dreams?

KK:  I really see it now that I have always marched the beat of my own drummer, even as a child and a teenager. I really see it now.  Since I was a little kid, I’ve never, never wanted to play ball on the team.  Thankfully, it somehow worked out.  I almost dropped out of high school.  I didn’t go to Ivy League schools.  I didn’t ever have a conventional career.  I still don’t; but somehow it works.For further information on Crazy Rich Asians Click Here:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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