One of the most highly anticipated movies of the summer — possibly the most highly anticipated movie of the summer — is Crazy Rich Asians, a romantic-dramedy that follows an American woman suddenly surrounded by over-the-top Singaporean wealth. But if you're wondering if Crazy Rich Asians is a true story, the simple answer is no. Nick Young and Rachel Chu (not of the Taipei Plastics Chus) are not real people, but the overall setting of immense South Asian wealth is based on the author of the book's actual life.
Crazy Rich Asians is based on the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan. Kwan was born in Singapore and moved to the U.S. when he was 12, according to an interview he did with Vanity Fair around the time of the book's release in 2013. The author told the magazine that he was raised in a similar world to the one described in the book and that he "had a very fortunate upbringing." (Sounds a bit like Nick Young, right?) He continued, "We were a very large, intermarried family, very similar to the family tree you see in the book. I used my family as a very loose inspiration for the lineage you see in the book."
An interview with Vulture from July notes that Kwan's paternal grandmother is the daughter of the founder of one of the oldest Singapore banks and that his paternal grandfather an ophthalmologist, who was educated in Hong Kong. Clearly, Kwan was truly writing what he knows in the book. He told Vulture, "I didn’t know what kind of story I was going to write. I just started spilling my truth, and then it became this fun, sprawling, crazy novel.”
And his truth involved situations from his childhood that are mirrored in his characters. Kwan told Harper's Bazaar Malaysia, "I had chauffeurs ferrying me around, one friend had security guards, and another had a swim-up bar in his apartment. When I moved to suburban Texas and dropped out of the goldfish bowl, I realized that my upbringing was rather unusual, and over time, the story brewed in my mind."
Chauffeurs and security guards aren't that hard to believe, but there are a lot of details in the book and the upcoming movie that seem like they must be exaggerated or made up. Take Colin and Araminta's wedding; the word "lavish" is not nearly strong enough to describe it. Well, Kwan has said that everything is based on real or at least plausible situations in Singapore, and that he even had to tone some things down because they were so over-the-top, they would be too unbelievable for readers.
"I did a lot more simplifying and cutting out of the decadence and the excess than I did of adding it on, if you can believe that," Kwan told Vanity Fair. "Sometimes I had to actually take details out, because my editor was like, 'No one will believe this.' And I would say, 'But this really happened,' and she’d reply, 'It doesn’t matter. You’re going to lose readers because it’s going to seem so unreal that people would spend this much money, or do something this excessive.'"
It's easy to see why his editor would say that, because if you don't know wealth or Singapore or Singaporean wealth, the situations in the book seem mythical. But soon, fans of the book and new fans alike will get to see everything go down on screen when the movie premieres on August 15. And you can watch knowing that, apparently, this stuff is really happening.