BlackBook Interview: ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Star Fiona Xie on Respect, Cultural Nuance & the Inimitable Charms of Singapore
Images Courtesy of Warner Bros
It’s not hard to imagine why, with Hollywood in full ownership of the concept of “blockbuster” cinema, films spotlighting other cultures continue to find mainstream U.S. success fairly elusive. But the lead up to the release this weekend of the Singapore-based Crazy Rich Asians has all the buzz of a massive superhero sequel.
Based on Kevin Kwan’s 2013 novel about wedding-focused extravagance amongst the Singaporean one-percenters, it also happens to be coming at a particularly socio-politically charged moment – with journalist Sarah Jeong’s hiring at the New York Times setting off a heated debate on the context and boundaries of racism in America. Interestingly, the film actually kind of pokes fun at the strict class delineations in Singapore, something pretty much anyone anywhere can relate to. But perhaps most importantly, it features bold, memorable female characters.
But what you should really come to CRA with, is the anticipation of seeing a riotously funny film, through the exotic lens of Singaporean culture, with tradition butting up against contemporary life – as it tends to do. And much like so many English costume dramas, it also plays as something of a Singapore travelogue, showing off the city’s sultry, dynamic charms. (It’s currently on so many “hottest destination” lists.)
We caught up with one of those particularly awesome women, actress Fiona Xie, who plays social-climbing actress Kitty Pong – a character viewed with suspicion by her rich boyfriend’s family…providing some of the comic tension that is at the heart of the film’s universal appeal.
Asian stories are often told in film through Western perspectives here in the West. What do you think has been missing in that point of view?
Integrity and a diversity in terms of culture, as Asian and Western cultures alike are nuanced in many ways.
What attracted you to the film version of Crazy Rich Asians? Had you read the book?
I was actually introduced to Kevin Kwan’s New York Times bestseller by a CEO of a respectable watch company. I didn’t expect him to be reading something with that title. I was intrigued by everyone’s interest and the wide spectrum of audience that it actually reached. It was such a buzz, everyone loved and raved about it. I was [generally] not one for such trends. I did however, pick it up and to my surprise, devoured Kwan’s wicked humor gleefully, chuckling away at how close to home it was. In the U.S. alone, there have been over 1.8 million copies in print. Genius.
Why do you think there is so much advance hype in the U.S. for this film in particular?
Goldrush. Everyone wants in on what’s good. For the Asian community, it’s also a movement to have a platform to share their real stories and to be heard equally. Ultimately, we are all humans that want to be understood, loved and accepted and to transcend all boundaries for great opportunities.
What will a Western audience take away from the film about the differences in our relationship issues and traditions?
Curiosity and respect. The same way you would want an Asian audience to appreciate and celebrate the Western culture.
How does Singapore as a place figure into the story in Crazy Rich Asians?
Location, location, location. The ultimate wedding of the year! Technicolor avatars like Super Trees at Gardens by the Bay, synchronized swimming atop the world’s only floating pool above the three-joined towers on the rooftop of Marina Bay Sands, and a glorious assortment of street food at the Newton Circus Hawker Centre.
Are there cultural references that are specific to Singapore?
The entire movie is interwoven with Singapore culture and you will also see a lot of cultural touch points referenced in the movie – and how multicultural Singaporeans live their life.
Ultimately, how do you think Western audiences will connect with the film version of Crazy Rich Asians?
With laughter, tears and a newfound interest in all stories that are ultimately well told.
The Real Singapore Locales Featured in Crazy Rich Asians
Images from top: Marina Bay Sands Skywalk; Newton Circus Hawker; Gardens by the Bay