Crazy Rich Asians was the surprise sensation of the year, and its hot streak continued Thursday with two nominations for the 76th annual Golden Globes, including Best Motion Picture (Comedy or Musical).
Constance Wu got the other nomination, with her buoyant portrayal of New York professor Rachel Chu earning mention for Best Actress in a Comedy/Musical.
Wu said the nomination was an affirmation of the film’s success and the ensuing surge in Hollywood interest in projects that speak to cultural roots and show underrepresented communities in an authentic and nuanced manner.
“This is the goal not just for Asian-Americans but any under-represented group,” Wu told Deadline. “When you’re a kid and you don’t see stories that center your type of experience, you can start to kind of question your own value and whether your way is the right way to be an American. When people invest in projects that center on Asian-American expression, it tells people who don’t live in major cities that their journey and their culture is part of being an American and that their story is one that people value and want to see.”
Wu said it was especially valuable to have audiences of all backgrounds laughing together in the theaters during a cultural plunge into the film’s Singapore setting and the Asian-American experience of trying to reconcile traditions of their past and the tugs of the present.
“Comedy is a great bridge and a unifier,” Wu said. “You think about laughter, it’s usually the way we relate to the person we fall in love with or the way we build friendships. In these politically stressful times, I think it’s nice to watch stories that are important, but it’s also important to watch ones that are fun and enjoyable.”
Crazy Rich Asians pulled in $238 million worldwide, making it the most successful romantic comedy in years. An escapist comedy often has the air of effortlessness on the screen, but the genre is rarely as easy as it looks. For Crazy Rich Asians, its path to the screen had hundreds of steps that invited a stumble. That’s why director Jon M. Chu had to chuckle when asked about key challenges that presented themselves during the project’s odyssey.
“Odyssey is a good word for it,” Chu told Deadline. “When I look back, I see all the traps we could have fallen into. All the traps. Casting the wrong people, picking the wrong studio, having the wrong producers — all of those things. When I think back on them I get scared for myself in the past. Every single step of the way things could have gone wrong, but in an odyssey, as we know, when the universe or fate is saying it has to be made, things fall into place.”
Chu said the sequence of events is a marvel for him to behold now. “Things happen in weird, serendipitous ways. And that happened,” he said. “Every single piece had to be in the right place for it to work.
“I appreciate so much the journey I have been on the past 10 or 12 years and to have learned all the lessons I learned along the way,” Chu added. “It makes me appreciate this part of the journey so much more. It also gives me the perspective that this doesn’t last forever either. So we’re going to have to keep fighting, keep pushing — and when things go well, we need to enjoy the ride.”
Chu knew the film had turned a corner from being a movie to becoming a cultural happening when some of the earliest audiences lingered near the popcorn counters after the film’s credits had finished.
“I went out to the lobby and a couple of screenings had let out at the same time and nobody had left. There were parents and grandparents and kids. They hung out in the lobby and just talked with each other and to each other. I thought, ‘Wow, this is why I love movies.’ I never thought one of my movies would cause that kind of conversation. It was a mind-turning experience for me.”
The journey ahead likely includes a second ride aboard the Crazy Rich Asians bandwagon. “Of course I’m excited about jumping into the sequel for Crazy Rich Asians at some point when get that together, but we’re at the very beginning stages of that.”
Chu said the Globe nominations add burnish to the already-gleaming success of the project.
“It’s nuts. I could never have imagined our little movie could come this far,” he said. “Not just the commercial success, the critical response to the film and the nominations, there’s also the fact that there’s been a change in the business for Asian-driven projects and the response to them. It’s amazing.”
Time will tell if Crazy Rich Asians endures in the public imagination and whether it adds a sequel success to its commercial victories. If so, it would be because the film was both timely in its cultural focus and timeless in its foundation themes.
“I think that true love, fairy tales, the positive messages of positive stories — I don’t think those ever die,” the filmmaker said. “Sometimes we like to hide them in sarcasm or irony but they are still there and they still move us.”