Poor director Jon M. Chu. It’s so difficult to please everyone. Right after most media channels lauded Crazy Rich Asians for being the first Hollywood blockbuster ever with an all-Asian cast, his movie, as well as the book it was based on, was criticised for not being “woke” enough.

You might have read the article on Vox by now, which says that both the book by Kevin Kwan, who was born in Singapore (but emigrated to America at the age of 11 and is wanted by the authorities for skipping out on National Service), and the movie, directed by Mr Chu, who is American Chinese, doesn’t represent Singapore’s cultural diversity authentically enough. You might also have watched videos of Yeolo’s and Preetipls’s take on the “crazy real Asians of Singapore”, which is a parody of a South China Morning Post video titled “where Singapore’s real crazy rich Asians hang out”.

Ya lah ya lah, Crazy Rich Asians is a Hollywood movie at heart. It just so happens to prominently feature Singapore, and so Singapore Tourism Board (STB) and the Singapore Film Commission have (wisely) thrown their weight behind it, because it’s too good an opportunity to miss. Crazy Rich Asians does not accurately represent the melting pot that is Singapore, because it is a work of fiction – or even fantasy. If you want to watch a film which accurately depicts Singapore and Singaporeans, hey – watch something else. Like a Tan Pin Pin documentary, perhaps.

From left: Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin, Nico Santos as Oliver T'sien and Constance Wu as Rachel Chu. Image credit: Warner Bros.

From left: Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin, Nico Santos as Oliver T’sien and Constance Wu as Rachel Chu. Image credit: Warner Bros.

But sorry, Mr Chu, I too, have a fight to pick with you. As a Singaporean, it’s too hard to watch this movie without nitpicking. Who’s supposed to be Singaporean in the film turned out to be American; the accents in the film are strangely jarring; our national airline is sorely missing; and it’s not a thing among Singaporean Chinese to make jiaozi.

So let’s say if we didn’t have to worry about catering to an international audience and box office performance. What Singaporean remakes would this writer at The Popping Post like to see? Here we go:

1. The cast: Replace all the Singaporean roles with Singaporean actors

Casting must have been a great challenge for the team as they had to consider not just issues of representation and suitability, but also international appeal. Constance Wu is golden as the American Chinese Rachel Chu. She’s charismatic on screen, has chemistry with her co-actors, and injects personality into the otherwise bland and oft-bullied Rachel character.

Constance Wu as Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians. Image credit: Warner Bros.

Constance Wu as Rachel Chu in Crazy Rich Asians. Image credit: Warner Bros.

Sadly though, not one of the leading characters in Crazy Rich Asians is played by a Singaporean. There are a handful of Singaporean actors cast in bit parts, and a couple of them are cast to play non-Singaporean characters. When word got out on the street last year that ex-Mediacorp “princess” Fiona Xie would be part of the Crazy Rich Asians cast, I had a feeling that she would get the role of Kitty Pong, an adult video starlet wannabe from China. To my delight, I was right! She actually told ELLE Singapore that she cried her eyes out and rejected the role at first. But she’s really thrown herself into it and has been so sporting, I don’t want to see her part changed. If movie sequels are going to be made, it’s very likely that Kitty Pong will have more screen time, and I hope Xie doesn’t get kicked out then.

Now if we had our way, here’s the rest of the main cast (just the Singaporean roles) fully reimagined:

Nicholas Young – Adrian Pang in his 30s

Left: Henry Golding as Nicholas Young (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Adrian Pang (image credit: www.hnworth.com)

Left: Henry Golding as Nicholas Young (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Adrian Pang (image credit: www.hnworth.com)

This character must be able to speak English with an Oxbridge accent, as depicted in the book. Henry Golding is half-British, half-Malaysian – which means that he’s kind of like, a quarter Singaporean by association, right? And he’s currently based here too. Golding is perfect for the role and I loved his debut silver screen performance. But if veteran theatre practitioner Adrian Pang were 20 years younger, we bet that he would have a fighting chance.

Eleanor Young – Margaret (“crush you like a cockroach”) Chan

Left: Michelle Yeoh (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Margaret Chan (image credit: 8 Days)

Left: Michelle Yeoh as Eleanor Young (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Margaret Chan (image credit: 8 Days)

Don’t get me wrong, Michelle Yeoh plays Nick’s domineering mother to perfection. She’s statuesque and really holds her own. She’s Malaysian, like a lot of our real mothers in Singapore anyway. But if we were to cast a Singaporean in this character, my first choice would be Margaret Chan, the stage doyenne who played villainous matriarchs on TV shows like Channel 5’s first soap Masters of the Sea and Channel 8’s Golden Pillow.

Astrid Leong – Sharon Au in her 30s

Left: Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Sharon Au (image credit: Facebook)

Left: Gemma Chan as Astrid Leong (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Sharon Au (image credit: Facebook)

Oxford-educated British actress Gemma Chan is easy on the eyes and genuinely exudes elegance, as expected of Astrid in the book. But that accent is just so out of place. If we had our way, former Mediacorp actress Sharon Au, who speaks French, Japanese, English and Mandarin, would be our choice for this role. Astrid is supposed to be a fashion maven in Crazy Rich Asians, and it just so happens that Au is a style icon in her own right, having been the lead of Mediacorp’s fashion community portal styleXstyle, as well as publisher of ELLE Singapore. Ah, if we could only turn back the clock!

Goh Wye Mun – Gurmit Singh

Left: Ken Jeong as Goh Wye Mun (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Gurmit Singh (image credit: The Straits Times)

Left: Ken Jeong as Goh Wye Mun (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Gurmit Singh (image credit: The Straits Times)

In the book, the Gohs are supposed to represent the rags-to-riches nouveau riche of Singapore. Goh Wye Mun, the patriarch of the Goh family, is supposed to be an avuncular person whom, I presume, should channel Gurmit Singh’s breakout role as Phua Chu Kang. After all, both Goh and Phua made their fortunes as contractors, and both have ostentatious, over-the-top tastes.

Ken Jeong, who is the director’s choice for the role, is funny and is definitely a show-stealer, but pairing him with Koh Chieng Mun is more than a little odd. Koh has abandoned her Symphony 92.4 radio deejay voice here and speaks like a normal Singaporean, which I love, but her onscreen husband sounds like he was helicoptered in from Michigan.

If we want to keep Ken Jeong in the cast, might I suggest that he take Oliver T’sien’s place as the helpful know-it-all? He’s supposed to be Singaporean too, but I think we can make an exception because it’s possible for Ollie to sport an accent, his character being more cosmopolitan and worldly-wise.

 

Goh Peik Lin – Michelle Chong

Left: Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Michelle Chong as Premium Lian (image credit: Facebook)

Left: Awkwafina as Goh Peik Lin (image credit: Warner Bros.), right: Michelle Chong as Premium Lian (image credit: Facebook)

How can a movie about Singapore exclude Premium Lian aka comedienne Michelle Chong? Yes, Awkwafina is Asian and yes, Awkwafina was really funny in Crazy Rich Asians, but her character is supposed to be a Singaporean girl who shows Rachel Chu the lay of the land and whatnot. How can it be this American girl with a 100% New York accent? Like Ken Jeong, Awkwafina is not playing the part of a Goh, but herself.

Michelle Chong could totes do both: manage Rachel’s dragon mother-in-law-to-be, and make us laugh.

 

Shang Su-yi (Ah Ma) – Li Yin Zhu(李茵珠)

Left: Lisa Lu as Ah Ma (image credit: IMDB), right: Li Yin Zhu (image credit: Lianhe Zaobao)

Left: Lisa Lu as Ah Ma (image credit: IMDB), right: Li Yin Zhu (image credit: Lianhe Zaobao)

Sure, Lisa Lu was one of the mothers in The Joy Luck Club (1993), another book-to-movie adaptation about American Chinese. But once she opens her mouth, her beautiful Mandarin betrays her as a northern Chinese person who won’t be able to pull off local dialect. For more believability, how about Mediacorp actress Li Yin Zhu, who has played many a matriarchal role on TV? Quite memorably, she played the matriarch in popular Mediacorp drama series The Little Nyonya (2008).

2. More neutral accents, please

Ken Jeong is really himself, not his character Goh Wye Mun, in Crazy Rich Asians. Image credit: Warner Bros.

Ken Jeong is really himself, not his character Goh Wye Mun, in Crazy Rich Asians. Image credit: Warner Bros.

Okay, the average American probably wouldn’t know or care what true-blue Singaporeans sound like. But because of the non-Singaporeans playing Singaporean roles in this film, the confusing number of accents alone make us sound like we’re some schizophrenic nation with some sort of colonial hang-up. For characters who aren’t supposed to sport accents as per the novel, can we please speak in neutral accents? Like Michelle Yeoh? Like their Singaporean co-actors Selena Tan, Amy Cheng and Janice Koh? Please?

 

3. Where is Singapore Airlines in this film?

The first class lounge of "Pacific Asean Airlines" in Crazy Rich Asians. Image credit: Warner Bros via Bustle.com

The first-class lounge of “Pacific Asean Airlines” in Crazy Rich Asians. Image credit: Warner Bros via Bustle.com

I gasped in horror when Nick and Rachel were welcomed by a fictional “Pacific Asean Airlines” at their airport. My jaw further dropped when they were shown to their first-class cabin by an airline stewardess whose generic-looking uniform screamed “budget carrier”.

Did Singapore Airlines (SIA) really miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime product placement opportunity? Shouldn’t Rachel Chu’s introduction to Singapore naturally start off with a flight on our national carrier?

SIA once held the title of running the world’s longest non-stop flight from 2004 to 2013 with its Singapore-Newark flight, and it was reported by The Straits Times in April the airline is expected to relaunch this route in the third quarter of 2018 with ultra-long-range Airbus A350-900 aircraft. So what better way to publicise this than getting on board this movie?

Because of all the product placements STB have crammed into Crazy Rich Asians, the omission of the Singapore Girl in her iconic sarong kebaya uniform is only too glaring. The Popping Post has reached out to both Singapore Airlines and Warner Bros. for comment. Stay tuned, folks.

Edit to add: SIA has declined to comment, only saying “We regret that we are unable to comment on sponsorship requests that we may or may not have been approached on.”

However, this article on movie website The Wrap has reported that Crazy Rich Asians producer Brad Simpson said that Singapore Airlines was indeed approached, but the national carrier was not sure whether “the movie would represent the airline and the customer in a good light”. Well I never.

 

4. Update the soundtrack please

Awkwafina's character orders her father out of the changing room. Image credit: Warner Bros.

Awkwafina’s character orders her father out of the changing room. Image credit: Warner Bros.

I am very sorry if this offends veteran music supervisor Gabe Hilfer, but I’m afraid that the soundtrack of Crazy Rich Asians has given away his lack of any pre-existing exposure to Chinese music, something that he has readily confessed in this article in Entertainment Weekly.

Yes, using a Mandarin cover of Coldplay’s Yellow was quite clever, and I appreciate that Mr Chu had gone through pains to seek permission to use it for the movie. But when all the songs were put together, I wasn’t quite sure what he was going for.

How about getting an actual Singaporean Chinese songwriter/arranger, such as Eric Ng of Funkie Monkies Productions, who was the musical genius behind Royston Tan’s 881 movie musical in 2007? Perhaps then the movie wouldn’t sound like a shopping centre during Chinese New Year, or some kind of 1970s cabaret.

 

5. Swap out the jiaozi(饺子)for zhang/zongzi(粽子)

Bak chang from Hiong Kee. Image credit: Aroma Cookery

Bak zhang from Hiong Kee. Image credit: Aroma Cookery

A majority of Singaporean Chinese are descendants of southerners. We are Hokkien, Teochew, Cantonese, Hock Chiew, Hainanese – Chinese dialect groups who mostly eat rice and rice noodles as staples. Jiaozi, or northern Chinese dumplings, are not a traditional Singapore dish. Getting together as a family to make jiaozi, which is made of wheat flour, isn’t a custom among us.

But wrapping zhang or zongzi, which are pyramid-shaped rice dumplings, can be a Singaporean Chinese thing during the Dragon Boat Festival period. These delicious parcels of glutinous rice wrapped in reed leaves come in a variety of savoury or sweet fillings, and are super tedious to make.

Most of us just buy zongzi if we want to eat it, but it’s completely believable if a matriarch such as Shang Su-yi made it a rule that her family must make them from scratch, assembly-line style. Besides, it would be a great chance to feature actual local food being made in a Singaporean home. I can already see her servants insisting on using only fresh reed leaves from their garden. ‘Cos they freakin’ live in an extension of the Botanic Gardens, right? So why not?

Crazy Rich Asians opened in Singapore on August 22.

Crazy Rich Asians opened in Singapore on August 22.

Do you have any gripes about Crazy Rich Asians? Tell us in the comments below! And if you haven’t watched it, what are you waiting for? Get your tickets here.

 

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