Since the film adaptation of author Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians trailer went viral on American daytime television, Singapore has been on everyone’s lips at the recent CinemaCon in Las Vegas in a brief span of a few hours. Finally giving long overdue attention to the Lion City, the Singapore-born Kwan’s ode to excess of the same name, is the first in a trilogy of best-selling novels that got transformed into a Hollywood romantic comedy directed by the acclaimed American filmmaker Jon M. Chu. Holding a fun-house mirror against the highest echelons of Singapore society, the three books chronicle unimaginable privilege—and wealth beyond compare—by shining the spotlight on the glamourous lives of the insanely rich and ludicrously-famous inhabitants of the island; all desperate to secure their social standing and find love in a hopeless place. And with a $30 million movie budget, the trailer certainly lives up to its hype and does not disappoint—as unabashed exhibitions of Asian wealth are cleverly captured (read: teased) in 120 seconds. From epic showdowns at lavish soirees, to icy face-offs during private island sojourns, we breakdown all the bickering make-believe people born into warring factions of old money, new money, some money and no money. Warning! Major spoilers ahead!
NICHOLAS “NICK” YOUNG
Played by Henry Golding
The strapping model-turned-broadcast journalist-turned-Hollywood star Henry Golding plays Nicholas “Nick” Young—the film’s “crazy rich” male protagonist who hails from one of the richest, if not the richest, family in Singapore—unbeknownst to his girlfriend of two years Rachel Chu (played by Constance Wu). Golding’s character went to boarding school in during his formative years in England (which explains his “clipped British accent”) and is currently a History professor at NYU—much like Rachel who also teaches Economics at the University. Nick is asked by his childhood best friend, the billionaire Colin Khoo (played by Chris Pang) to be best man at his “wedding of the year” to Araminta Lee (played by the beautiful Sonoya Mizuno). Nick extends an invitation to Rachel, asking her to go with him to his place of birth so she can have some overdue R&R, and to introduce her to his family since he has already met her mother Kerry Chu (played by Singaporean thespian Tan Kheng Hua). Things just got real, real quick.
Played by Constance Wu
Chinese-American actress Constance Wu of Fresh Off the Boat fame, plays the film’s female protagonist Rachel Chu—not of the “wealthy Taiwan Chus” (god forbid, one more time Constance’s character hears of this tiresome misnomer). Rachel is from a working class family and raised by a single mother Kerry Chu. The premise of this fish out of water story follows Rachel’s epic journey from Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue to the fourth estate in Singapore as she tries to forget about her struggles getting tenure at NYU; where she teaches Economics, how she is subjected to the envy and hatred of every unmarried girl in Singapore who wants to have their perfectly manicured social-climbing talons around Asia’s most eligible bachelor; her boyfriend of two years Nick Young, and how she manages to emerge triumphant from the insidious maternal clutches of Nick’s overbearing mother (played by the inimitable Michelle Yeoh) at the end of the day.
Played by Gemma Chan
The otherworldly brainy beauty that is British actress Gemma Chan lends her elegant frame and smooth like molten-butter-on-warm-toast voice to breathe life into the equally “Goddess”-like Astrid Leong-Teo—a paternal (double heiress, from from both her parents’ sides) cousin of Nick Young—a girl that “exists only to feed obsession” in the book. Astrid’s mother Felicity Leong (née Young, played by acclaimed Singaporean actress and activist Janice Koh) is the sister of Nick’s father Phillip Young. The first to wear the Antwerp Six and the first to match a vintage Saint Laurent Le Smoking jacket with a pair of three-dollar batik shorts from a vendor in Bali during her teens, all while other plebeian girls her age were decked out in top to toe designer—Astrid is every designer’s wet dream. While Astrid enjoys couture and all the trappings of wealth, she is painfully down to earth. Since her youth, every girl wanted to be her and every guy wanted to bed her. She was once engaged to dreamy billionaire tech genius Charlie Wu (played by Harry Shum Jr. of Glee fame) and is now married to the fiercely handsome Michael Teo (played by Singaporean heartthrob Pierre Png) with a chip on his chiselled shoulder—much to her family’s chagrin (read: rich people can really be so uptight)—and with whom she has a three-year-old son, Cassian. But all is not well in paradise…
Played by Pierre Png
Playing Adonis incarnate Michael Teo is the equally godlike, and ruggedly dashing, Singaporean Peranakan actor Pierre Png. A self-made man in the book, he is the Armed Forces Elite Commando and National Merit Scholar son of unknown school teachers—from the heartlands of Toa Payoh—that Astrid met at a church charity fashion show. Michael was dressed in only a camouflage-print speedo (read: sacrilege!), and the rest as they say is urology. We mean history. This glorious specimen of a man then went on to become a Caltech-trained computer systems specialist before leaving the military to start his own tech firm (Astrid clearly has a thing for geeks). Today, his company is on the rocks and his in-laws constantly take him for granted, and treat him like menial tech-support—fixing frozen computer windows, iPads, Xboxes, industrial ovens (the works)—walking all over him all because he has no social standing. Astrid’s parents think that he is not able to provide for their only daughter. But Astrid’s love for her husband Michael is so strong that she insists on living with him in a house that he could afford—a three room luxury condominium opposite the, wait for it, Istana—and hides her biannual couture hauls in the spare bedroom, or blatantly lies about the price of her purchases (combined, could easily cost ten times more than the “shoebox” they’re living in) because she doesn’t want his ego to be bruised. Plot twist: His ego is bruised. Whatever will Michael do to feel like a man again?
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Played by Michelle Yeoh
Quite possibly the “Crazy” in Crazy Rich Asians, Nick’s mother Eleanor Young (née Sung) is the main protagonist of the film. Played by the inimitable Malaysian actress and UN Goodwill Ambassador Michelle Yeoh, Eleanor is the literal definition of an uptight society matron—so consumed with pride, prestige and private investigators. Eleanor’s way of expressing maternal love is insisting that her only son meet and conform to her own standards and demands. A stylish woman with misplaced values and very little convictions, Eleanor is solely admired by her friends for becoming Mrs. Philip Young (one of the richest men in Asia). She is obsessed over what the cognoscenti thinks of her and places importance on pedigree and lineage. Sparing no expense at sabotaging Nick and Rachel’s relationship during their holiday in Singapore, she actually managed to get the ammunition she needed by hiring private eyes to look up on Rachel’s background, before engaging ghosts of Nick’s girlfriends past to undermine and rattle Rachel. And all because she insists that Nick should marry a girl with the same social standing as him, just so he can inherit his grandmother—the matriarch of the Young family—Shang Su Yi (played by Lisa Lu)’s massive fortune when the time comes. But what has she found about Rachel’s family that is so detrimental to the young American girl’s chance at happiness?
SHANG SU YI
Played by Lisa Lu
Deep within Tyersall Park, just off the Botanic Garden, the grand matriarch of the Young family, Shang Su Yi—played by veteran actress Lisa Lu of The Last Emperor (she played Empress Dowager Ci’xi) and Joy Luck Club fame—holds court in her palatial estate. The formidable grandmother of Nick Young, Astrid Leong-Teo, Eddie Cheng (played by Ronny Chieng) and Alistair Cheng (played by Remy Hii), owns the biggest plot of land in Singapore (over 50 acres)—it is written that it is bigger than even the Istana. She is constantly flanked by two Thai ladies-in-waiting that were gifted to her by His Majesty the late King Rama VIII—whose costumes of, intricate Thai silk, in this film were supposedly designed by the actual couturiers of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Sirikit of Thailand. And like all grandmothers, she practices blatant favouritism towards Nick, having taken care of her grandson since he was born. Su Yi is however a stickler for lineage, as indeed all grannies are.
Played by Harry Shum Jr.
Glee’s breakout star Harry Shum Jr. plays billionaire Charlie Wu, Astrid’s former fiancé. The eldest son of new money tech billionaire Wu Hao Lian, Charlie proposed to Astrid on a ski lift in Verbier when they were both twenty-two with a thirty-nine carat diamond solitaire. It all came to a screeching halt—much to the delight of her old money parents—outside a Wendy’s on Orchard Road, before screams were exchanged and ice creams were thrown, and Astrid immediately fleeing to the comforts of Paris. Charlie is now also unhappily married and still has feelings for Astrid. For him, she will always be the one that got away, but will Charlie do anything to help the woman he truly loves now that Astrid’s marriage is in shambles?
Played by Chris Pang
Australian actor Chris Pang plays Colin Khoo, the childhood best friend of Nick Young. They both went to Anglo-Chinese School together and he is the immensely wealthy cousin of Astrid’s on her father’s side—whose wedding with Araminta Lee is the most talked-about in all of eastern Asia. Arranged by Colin’s grandfather Khoo Teck Fong—one of the richest men in the world—their marriage has been widely reported and covered by television channels, to magazines and blogs. His family owns the luxury hotel Nick Young and Rachel Chu are staying at.
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Played by Sonoya Mizuno
British-born Japanese model and face of Shiseido, Sonoya Mizuno plays the equally exotic-looking Araminta Lee—fiancée of Colin Khoo, and heiress daughter of the richest man in China, Peter Lee, and luxury hotelier Annabel Lee. Part Uyghur—thanks to her mother from Xinjiang—her alluring features made Araminta the “most celebrated fashion icon” in Singapore, a magazine darling and was even one of the late Alexander McQueen’s favourite models. Her wedding dress is designed by Valentino—as in Garavani. Araminta is also one of the many girls that worshipped Astrid Leong.
GOH PEIK LIN
Played by Awkwafina
Every Cinderella story needs a fairy godmother. And in Crazy Rich Asians, Asian-American comedic firecracker Awkwafina plays Goh Peik Lin, Rachel Chu’s Singaporean best friend that she met at freshman orientation when they were both at Stanford. Just a mere millionaire—courtesy of her property tycoon father, Goh Wye Mun (played by comedic genius Ken Jeong), Peik Lin is unapologetic of her wealth and constantly lavishes Rachel with expensive gifts. During this visit to Singapore, Peik Lin brings Rachel to a chi-chi boutique on Ann Siang Hill and bought the American girl her first Alaïa for the wedding. Film critics are already calling this Akwafina’s breakout summer—what with Crazy Rich Asians and Ocean’s Eight slated to be released in the same month.
GOH WYE MUN
Played by Ken Jeong
Korean-American comedic genius Ken Jeong plays Goh Wye Mun, wealthy Singaporean property and construction tycoon father of Goh Peik Lin. Their house the Villa d’Oro (a bootlegged “Petit Trianon at Versailles”), is what Rachel would come to describe as the epitome of nouveau riche and a total Rococo hell—with tacky gold-leafing, cornices, marble and Grecian columns at every turn.
Played by Koh Chieng Mun
In her great return to the screen, Singaporean actress Koh Chieng Mun of Under One Roof fame plays Neena Goh, the mother of Goh Peik Lin. Not entirely different from her character in Under One Roof and quite possibly just as funny, she is described to be constantly fussing over her proxies: three golden-haired Pekingese pooches—Astor, Trump and Vanderbilt. How fun!
Played by Nico Santos
Described to be like a character straight out of an Oscar Wilde play with his plummy English accent, the role of hilarious gossip monger Oliver T’sien is played by rising Filipino-American actor Nico Santos. Oliver is the second cousin of Nick Young—their grandmothers are sisters—that works at Christie’s of London, but based in Hong Kong.
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Played by Tan Kheng Hua
Singaporean actress Tan Kheng Hua plays Kerry Chu, lovable single mother of Rachel Chu, who moved to the Land of the Free from China with her daughter and worked at various Chinese restaurants across the country to make ends meet. She finally manages to get her real-estate license just as Silicon Valley was entering the Internet boom. The mother and daughter pair eventually moved to an affluent area in the Bay Area in the West Coast—before she managed to put Rachel through Stanford and Northwestern. But is there more than meets the eye? Why did Kerry want to leave China for America so desperately? This is also the actress Tan Kheng Hua’s first reunion with her small screen husband, Pierre Png, when they acted in Singaporean TV sitcom, Phua Chu Kang, so many moons ago.
Played by Jimmy O. Yang
The son of the corrupt billionaire Dato’ Tai Toh Lui and Datin Carol Tai, Bernard Tai is played by American comedian Jimmy O. Yang. Bernard is the childhood friend of Nick Young and Colin Khoo, and is in charge of organising the latter’s bachelor party. Word has it that Bernard pulled out all the stops, and hilarity ensues.
Played by Ronnie Chieng
Every inch the caricature of a young Asian billionaire is Edison “Eddie” Cheng—played by Malaysian comedian Ronny Chieng. Eddie is the eldest son of Alix Young (played by Selena Tan) and renowned Hong Kong heart surgeon Dr. Malcolm Cheng, and is the literal definition of a bon vivant. He behaves how one would expect a person with a net worth of billions to act—pompous, insufferable and a total peacock (trust us, there is one in every family). He breezed through the Cambridge Judge Business School with distinction, did a stint at Cazenove in London, and is now a rising star in Hong Kong’s private banking world. He loves namedropping his dubious Mainland Chinese billionaire best friend, and splurging on Savile Row suits—constantly striving to present a perfect family front; often walking with his family falling in formation just behind him at every public appearance just so the paparazzi can get the best shot of them. And oh, he is also cheating on his poor wife Fiona. What did we tell you about him being a pig?
Played by Remy Hii
The youngest son of Alix Cheng and Dr. Malcolm Cheng, Alistair—played by the incredibly attractive Australian actor Remy Hii—is the prodigal son of his family. He barely scraped through university and is currently doing odd jobs in the Hong Kong film industry. He is more known for dating Kitty Pong, a soap opera star with a less-than-perfect reputation.
Played by Fiona Xie
Singaporean actress Fiona Xie plays Kitty Pong, the tabloid fodder of a social climbing Hong Kong soap opera star (by way of northern China—her character’s fictional accent is not fooling any of the upper crust). With a penchant for cleavage, see-through clothing and a diabolical cackle, Kitty is definitely more Paris Texas, than Paris France. We really do love her.
Played by Janice Koh
Singaporean actress and former Nominated Member of Parliament Janice Koh plays Felicity Leong (née Young) the eldest daughter of Sir James Young and Shang Su Yi, and mother to Astrid Leong. Assertive and often taking no prisoners, Felicity, who married Henry “Harry” Leong Sr., one of the world’s richest men. He is so rich, he bought her a grand hotel in the Royal Borough of Mayfair in London just to spite the insolent hotel manager that was being unceremoniously rude, and just plain vile to Felicity during check in.
ALEXANDRA “ALIX” CHENG
Played by Selena Tan
The OG Dim Sum Dolly and founder of Dream Academy, Selena Tan plays Alix Cheng, youngest daughter of Sir James Young and Shang Su Yi, and wife of world renowned heart surgeon Dr. Malcolm Cheng. Brought up by her family to be modest and reserved, she is the less showy of her sisters—coming across as a bit of a miser—and often adopts self-deprecation. Nevertheless, she is the real architect of her family’s fortune in Hong Kong—channelling every cent of her husband’s considerable earnings into properties in Hong Kong just as the housing boom was taking off.
Played by Amy Cheng
We know her as the long suffering wife of Gary Tay in Singaporean soap opera Growing Up, and more recently the Creative Director of the drama school ACT 3. In Crazy Rich Asians, Singaporean multi-hyphenate Amy Cheng trades her good girl shoes to play Jacqueline Ling—the scheming youthful granddaughter of wealthy old-moneyed philanthropist Ling Yin Chao and goddaughter of Shang Su Yi, and Eleanor Young’s mortal nemesis. But the two are in cahoots to take down Rachel Chu.
And if our hunch is right, Jacqueline’s vermin of a daughter Amanda “Mandy” Ling is played by British-Chinese actress Lu Si, which leaves Malaysian actress Carmen Soo to play either one of two remaining characters—Francesca Shaw; erroneous socialite daughter of Eleanor’s loyalist Nadine Shaw, or Cassandra Shang; otherwise known as Radio One Asia; Nick Young’s gossipy second-cousin.
Watch the full Crazy Rich Asians trailer here: