By Ned Kelly
Borne out of their passion to support the film Crazy Rich Asians, Regina Galang, Lenora Chu and Melissa Lam, three Asian-American long-time China residents, decided to do something, well, crazy — buy out an entire theater and fill it up with their friends for a 'Shanghai Premiere'.
They called the Jing'an Kerry Premiere Theater and paid for all 213 seats on the spot. Not having a clue if they could actually fill the place, they quickly started a WeChat group, and that WeChat group quickly took a life of its own, growing to over 300 people in a couple of hours.
There was only one thing to be done — reserve 213 more seats!
And so it is that tonight, Friday November 30, two extra large theaters will be packed out with 426 Crazy Rich Asians fans, with money raised donated to Lifeline Shanghai, and even an appearance by star of the film Jasmine Chen.
Left to right: Melissa Lam, Jasmine Chen (seated), Lenora Chu and Regina Galang [Photo by Lisa Cupps]
Not bad for three friends with day jobs. To honor the feat, That's asked Regina Galang to interview Jasmine Chen. At the end of the interview, organizer and author Lenora Chu also explains her inspiration.
Right, over to Regina...
RG: Before I ask my first question, I want to say congratulations on the film itself. I don't remember being this excited about a movie release in a very long time. And I'm not alone. It was because of our passion for Crazy Rich Asians, and our desire to support initiatives like it, that motivated us to rally such a large audience to attend the China Premiere. So tell me, how did the opportunity come about and what drove you to take it?
JC: Last March I was approached through my Facebook fan page. It was about a performance for an upcoming movie with the — to me at the time — silly title Crazy Rich Asians. Initially I thought of it as spam and didn’t give it any further attention. Not until I received an e-mail with the same request from an official Warner Brothers address. I realized the director Jon M. Chu had found me on my YouTube channel and wanted me personally to perform for the movie. And who could say no to that?
Shanghai is such a special city for so many of us. Melissa, Lenora and I have called it home for several years. I know Shanghai has a unique place in your heart too. Can you tell us why you're so excited about the movie premiering here?
First of all, Crazy Rich Asians is simply a great and romantic movie. Being a part of it makes me very proud and honored, so when I heard it was going to be released in Mainland China, let alone Shanghai, I got very excited!
I consider Shanghai my home and it is where my career began. Shanghai has supported me and helped me grow to the artist I am today. Now 14 years later, being recognized in an international production, it is extremely special to me, to be able to bring this back to where it all began.
You sing several songs in the film. Can you tell us a little bit more about the songs and the spin you put on them?
I recorded six songs for the movie, and three of them are included into the soundtrack album you can find them online. Songs like 'Waiting for Your Return' 何日君再来, 'Give Me a Kiss' 给我一个吻, 'I Want Your Love 我要你的爱 are old Chinese popular songs from 1930-1950s.
'Give Me a Kiss' was arranged by JQ Whitcomb, a great American jazz trumpet player who has lived in Shanghai for over 10 years, while 'Waiting for Your Return' was arranged by Grammy award winning American Chinese composer Christopher Tin.
'Waiting for Your Return' was actually quite challenging for me; it is the opening song of the movie, and Christopher’s re-arrangement sounded grand and energetic. It is very different from what I always had in mind thinking back on Zhou Xuan 周璇 and Teresa Deng’s 邓丽君 gentle and soft versions.
I had a hard time finding the right tone, but after a few meetings on Skype with Chris, and recording a few demos, we finally got it right.
Jasmine Chen sings 'Wo Yao Ni De Ai' (I Want Your Love) on set [Photo by Sanja Bucko, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]
You were just in Beijing with Jon M. Chu, the director, Michelle Yeoh, and others from Crazy Rich Asians. What was the reception in China's capital? Was it different from the reception globally?
The Beijing reception was very simple and intimate compared with the LA and Singapore Premieres. It was followed by an after party with prominent people from within the industry. To all our surprise, Jackie Chan came all the way to Beijing to show his support at the after party at the Rosewood Beijing Hotel.
You worked with such a tremendous cast and crew. Any fun stories you can share with us of what took place on or off the set?
The sexy golden thong worn by Jimmy O. Yang, who plays Bernard. It was actually Jimmy’s own crazy idea, and a bright shiny golden thong was handmade the day before the actual shooting by Hollywood costume designer Mary E. Vogt. Everyone was amazed!
I participated in two of the significant scenes in the movie, both had most of the main cast involved, which made the experience so much more special. We all spent time in the same dressing room, and it was never quiet, and always filled with laughs, because there are many comedians in the cast.
I enjoyed every moment with everyone. All were very professional and a pleasure to work with. The song 'Wo Yao Ni De Ai' (I Want Your Love) kinda became our own theme song, we sing it together everywhere we go.
After shooting our final scene of the movie in Singapore, we had a big wrap party at Lantern Bar at Fullerton Bay Hotel, followed by everyone’s favorite Asian activity — karaoke, and food at local restaurant until morning.
The 'Crazy Rich Asians' cast being crazy [Photo by Russel Wong]
In your opinion, how else can we support and encourage initiatives and projects like Crazy Rich Asians? Do you think the movie's success has sparked a movement or opened doors for others who might have previously remained on the sidelines?
I believe Crazy Rich Asians has become a great success because of its simplicity. It is not trying to emphasize a special ethnicity or typecast. It’s simply a great movie with an all Asian cast, portraying normal life challenges, such as love and family values. They just happen to be crazy rich!
I believe type-casting of Asians is very stereotypical, which is why this movie is so great — anyone can relate to a character in the movie, no matter their individual background.
We know that Crazy Rich Asians has debunked some Asian stereotypes. Give us your top 3...
1: Asian men are sexy, intelligent and attractive!
2: Not all Asian movies are about martial arts and fighting.
3: Love is universal, no matter race, geography or age. It faces the same challenges such as distance, family values, money and sacrifice.
What did it feel like for you to be part of and work with an all-Asian cast?
Everyone was Asian, but international Asians, very proffesional and kind, with different heritages. We all felt connected, not because of background, but something beyond. It was very special and touching.
I am used to work with international artists with various backgrounds and ethnicity, so working with an all-Asian cast reminded me about the importance of Asian representation in international movies. Keeping that in mind, it made it everyone feel like one big family.
Also, working with big international stars like Michelle Yeoh and Lisa Lu was truly amazing. The mix of experienced actors, young comedians and upcoming stars is truly what brings this movie together. It was so educational and inspiring.
Now that the film is out and has received so much praise and support, it must be easy from the outside looking in to view the making of the movie as a 'no-brainer.' The reality must have been very different though from Kevin Kwan’s, Jon M. Chu’s and the cast and crew’s perspectives. As one of the first all-Asian sets, what challenges, difficulties and pressure to 'get it right' were experienced along the way? How did everyone stay focused, driven and motivated throughout the process?
This is probably a question more suitable for the director, Jon M. Chu (pictured with Jasmine, below). However, working on set, everyone was so focused and aware of directions and individual roles. No one was actually thinking about the 'all-Asian' cast. Just being professional.
Jasmine Chen on set with Director Jon M. Chu and Cher Siang Tay (piano), Julian Chan ( saxophone) and AJ (bass) [Photo by Sanja Bucko, courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures]
Right, a question that I know is on everyone's mind: Can we expect to see China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems in theaters? If so, when? We want to mark our calendars!
The sequel has been scheduled to begin production in 2020. So far, I am due to participate in that as well, so stay tuned, because it will be big!
And finally, what else is in store for you and what other projects are you working on? How can we keep up with Jasmine Chen?
I am currently finalizing my second Chinese jazz album with some new, authentic and exciting tracks, like my original song about WeChat. I’m also working on concert programs for next year at Shanghai and China’s major theaters.
Finally I have a Shanghai 1930s project which gives the audience an authentic feel of the original Shanghai jazz scene from that specific era. My monthly performance will be at Shanghai’s JZ Club with JZ big band and my quintet.
Here, Shanghai Premiere organizer and author Lenora Chu explains what it was about Crazy Rich Asians that inspired her...
"I saw the film on opening night in the United States, and I happened to be in rural Minnesota. It was a Wednesday, and the theater was empty but for me and about eight others — needless to say I was worried! Obviously, I was thrilled to see the film take off over that opening weekend and word-of-mouth spread.
"Melissa, Regina and I are Americans who together have been here for something like four decades. We were so happy to be able to pool our time and resources to get this film off on the right foot in China. Shanghai is the country's trophy city — let's get the show on the road. I know that in the book, at least, China Rich Girlfriend is partly set in Shanghai. If and when filming begins here, we'll be here and ready to help!
"The film is a cultural touchstone — it's been fascinating to see how it has been embraced around the world by various audiences. I think it will be even more interesting to see what happens in China with the sequel China Rich Girlfriend, since part of it is set in China. Certain themes in the series — wealth, excess — are considered sensitive right now in China, and how and whether the Chinese embrace cross-cultural content is always a great indication of which way the winds are blowing."
Read our interview with Lenora Chu about her book Little Soldiers: An American Boy, a Chinese School and the Global Race to Achieve by clicking here.
[Cover photo by Lisa Cupps]
This article was originally published by our sister magazine That's Shanghai. For more articles like this, visit the That's Shanghai website, or follow the That's Shanghai WeChat account (ID: Thats_Shanghai).