Director Jon M. Chu goes from popcorn to rom-com with Crazy Rich Asians.
Filmmaker Jon M. Chu’s stylish cinematic résumé—including dance flicks in the Step Up franchise, action tentpole G.I. Joe: Retaliation, sleight-of-hand sequel Now You See Me 2 and Justin Bieber doc Never Say Never—nearly defies a unified theme. Until he suggests one. “They’re all sort of modern fairy tales: You’ve got to go through that ringer to come out someone else,” Chu says. “And I love a language that isn’t just words. Things like dance or action or magic allow me to tell the story in ways that I understand it.”
Now, Chu is forgoing his popcorn-pic past with his sumptuous big-screen adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s bestselling novel Crazy Rich Asians, a subject Chu understands intimately. The son of Chinese immigrant restaurateurs in Palo Alto, Chu knows oh so well the culture clashes and family dynamics of assimilated Asian-American families, though he’d shied away from mining it in his Hollywood work. “I never wanted to be seen as, ‘Oh, that’s that Asian filmmaker,’” he says. “ Looking back, I was scared of tackling the dual identity that you have to deal with.”
Kismet-rich circumstances led him to direct the film(he’s even subtly referenced in Kwan’s novel), which showcases a knockout all-Asian cast and fancy, eye-popping locations across Malaysia and Singapore. But all the lavish details of the Asian uberwealthy merely serve the heartfelt story’s universal appeal. “The more specific we were with the details that are so true in my own family—the dumplings and how they make them, and what Ah Ma would say to Eleanor—the more others would be like, ‘Oh, yeah, I have that exact same experience,’” Chu says. “I hope this movie really has that feeling for people.” Rom-com with a message? It’s a wrap.