Sweet Thoughts



The best movie I never watched

By Serene Goh

This is about a guy, a girl, and his mother. Add to the pot some mansions. Mahjong. Machinations. Big budget. Sharks in a tank. Now it’s a rom com on ‘roids. Author Kevin Kwan’s story reveals a Singapore most do not see. Then funny woman Michelle Chong Ah Lian-ed it with her Kao campaign.

I haven’t yet read the books or seen the show. I’m likely to do both. Someday. Then again, empowered by #CrazyRichAsians, this sleep-deprived Mombie can already pretend to love it all.

After I Googled “Jon M Chu”, the CRA trailer programmatically dogged me for months. I cannot get away: Facebook, the office, WhatsApp, Instagram, radio, teasers ahead of YouTube cartoons I watch with my child. So now, like the worn flip-flops preferred by fair to middling rich Asians, I am too familiar with it.

From a marketer’s standpoint, its value is greater than its box office success (a hit in the United States with US$45 million ahead of its Asia-wide roll out, which cost US$30 million to produce). It is a watershed, for lodging the soft culture of Singapore in lights.

Props to Singapore Tourism Board and Singapore Film Commision for supporting it, even if the main cast wasn’t Singaporean. So what? Daniel Day-Lewis is British-Irish and won Best Actor for playing American President Abraham Lincoln.

The film is a fine capstone to the past 12 months’ chatter associated with the nation: first, with the Passion Made Possible campaign to position it as place where dreams can come true, then the Trump-Kim Summit, which bumped it to top of mind as the destination for businesses and conventions.

What’s in the secret sauce? Take it from someone who only aspires to see it:

  1. Slow burn. About 18 months ago, or an eternity in digital standard time, I noticed my Facebook friends posting audition videos for Crazy Rich Asians. Everyone knew impassioned lines from the script, and frankly, I never realised until then just how much acting talent existed here. I started to get excited. Someone I personally knew could very well be in a Hollywood blockbuster with a shot at the Oscars! And not just in the sound category! Then the cynic in me weighed in. Bah, it’s a publicity stunt. (Albeit a good one, with novelty and elements of competition.)
  2. The fire. Months later came the hate. Oh, the droves of critics and lay reviewers trotting out pithy observations about minority representation in the film. And mighty fine points too. Intellectual. Deep. Expository. Such writing talent — if a tad heavy handed at times — driving talkability.
  3. Always-on engagement. Unstoppable (even when on mute), user-generated, long- and short-form analyses. En masse. I read so many Facebook posts and listicles which typically went like this: “Just saw Crazy Rich Asians. And here’s my two cents’. 1. Something about Constance Wu and Henry Golding not having chemistry but omg (Dato’) Michelle Yeoh … 2. What’s with the stilted accents..? 3. I see the book didn’t have this, but the movie did to make it more “Asian”. 4. Waah, that scene where they’re leaving the airport makes Singapore looks sooooo good!! 634 Likes. 423 loves. 321 lols. 2 sads.
  4. Earned media. The junket troops landed in full force with fabulous ideas for travelogues. Not since Formula One debuted in 2008 has Singapore looked so sexy. Influencers cavorted about the Marina Bay area as if there was nothing like it on earth. The fangirl in me lapped it up, drinking in how our lil’ island looked all lit up around the National Day season. It felt so… so … so Monaco. Truth: I got misty.
  5. The hero product. In this case, author Kevin Kwan, whose idyllic childhood, textured lineage and brush with Mindef has made him a scrummy story in himself.
  6. Drove tactical objectives: The premiere gala night at The Capitol Theatre was jammed with talent in glitzy gowns, glam factor turned up to 11! Everyone was there (except Mr Kwan), and then everyone talked about it some more on social media. Then they went and watched the show.
  7. Inbound tourism. Such a hit is a can’t-miss opportunity to extend the Singapore brand in myriad ways (read Sex And The City tours in New York), beyond its food, airport and efficiency. I say we start putting out Crazy Rich Asian tours of Singapore with related heritage facts, so anyone can be a docent. We can show off to visitors that we too have loveable quirks, that we aren’t just hard-nosed pragmatists. So in response to friends in the US asking “Have you seen Crazy Rich Asians yet? Makes me want to visit!”, I can easily say, “No I have not, but come over anyway, I have this map…!”

Me, I’m curious about the spin-off videos being co-produced by STB with Warner Bros, with Singaporean cast members Fiona Xie, Janice Koh and Tan Kheng Hua talking about the cultures behind CRA’s featured locations. If responses to Crazy Rich Asians are anything to go by, audiences are more than ready to toast this city’s other features: its untold stories, multiculturalism, humour, and people.


Serene Goh

Serene is the Head of Editorial Content at Sweet. She believes in the power of stories and their tellers.