Singapore banks on 'Crazy Rich Asians', its most ambitious Hollywood tie-up, to draw tourists

Teng Yong Ping
Lifestyle Editor
Singaporean actress Tan Kheng Hua at the “Crazy Rich Asians” premiere in Hollywood, with the Singapore Tourism Board’s tagline logo. (PHOTO: Warner Bros)

Amid criticism that the much-hyped Hollywood romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians fails to accurately depict Singapore, the government is pushing ahead with efforts to ride on the film’s buzz to market the country as a tourist destination.

Set in the glitzy world of Singapore’s mega-rich, the film is the largest collaborative production between Singapore and Hollywood, said Joachim Ng, director of the Singapore Film Commission (SFC). In producing the movie, Warner Bros employed a largely local crew comprising 297 Singaporeans and permanent residents.

Crazy Rich Asians has been highly anticipated as Hollywood’s first film in a quarter-century with an all-Asian cast in a contemporary setting (the last such film was 1993’s The Joy Luck Club).

The fish-out-of-water story is about the obstacles an Asian-American woman must face when her boyfriend brings her back to Singapore to meet his wealthy family.

The film features a host of Singaporean actors, including Pierre Png, Koh Chieng Mun, Tan Kheng Hua, Selena Tan, Janice Koh, Fiona Xie and Amy Cheng – although its main roles went to Chinese-American Constance Wu, British-Malaysian Henry Golding and Malaysian Michelle Yeoh.

The lavish wedding scene under the supertrees at Gardens by the Bay in “Crazy Rich Asians”. (PHOTO: Warner Bros)

Criticism over ‘authenticity’

Some critics in Singapore have complained about the film’s characters not speaking enough Singlish and its lack of ethnic diversity – with its story focusing mainly on a super-rich Chinese Singaporean family. Meanwhile, others have countered that one film cannot be expected to represent all facets of Singapore.

Despite the gripes, Singapore Tourism Board (STB) is hoping that the film will introduce the nation as a potential destination to international audiences.

“Being fictional, the movie obviously does not reflect the whole of Singapore nor the lives of Singaporeans in general,” STB’s assistant marketing chief executive, Lynette Pang, told Yahoo Lifestyle Singapore.

“We do think the story is an engaging one and with Singapore being prominently featured, we hope that the movie can pique the interest of viewers, especially in the North American markets.”

Marketing Singapore

Efforts by STB to target well-heeled consumers include the recent “Crazy Rich Singapore Week” from 9 to 11 August at the TAO Group’s high-end nightlife spot in Hollywood, where Singapore talents such as chef Malcolm Lee and DJ KoFlow showcased local food and culture.

STB has also partnered travel agency Indus Travel to curate a “Crazy Rich Asians” tour package geared towards the US market. The tour includes locations featured in the movie as well as other attractions such as Little India and Thian Hock Kheng Temple.

The film’s local cast has also been roped in to make videos featuring various aspects of Singapore such as its fashion, art and Peranakan culture.

Pang said, “While we may not be able to immediately quantify returns from the movie, we certainly expect the exposure from the movie to help bolster greater global awareness of our destination and this could potentially attract more visitors over time.”

Henry Golding and Constance Wu star in “Crazy Rich Asians”. (PHOTO: Warner Bros Singapore)

‘Most ambitious’ collaboration

Crazy Rich Asians is the most ambitious among Singapore’s Hollywood collaborations, in terms of the number of locations, and the biggest number of cast and crew hired from Singapore,” said Ng.

The SFC, which is in charge of developing the local film industry, previously worked with Hollywood on action flick Hitman: Agent 47 and sci-fi romance Equals, which were both partially shot in Singapore.

Hitman and Equals, both released in 2015, were panned by critics. Crazy Rich Asians, having received glowing reviews, offers hope for greater exposure among American audiences. The film has performed well at the US box office, raking in US$34 million (S$46 million) in its debut week.

Crazy Rich Asians features iconic Singapore attractions such as Gardens by the Bay and Merlion Park, as well as lesser-known picturesque locations such as Ann Siang Hill, Bukit Pasoh and Esplanade Park.

It also showcases Singapore’s foodie culture through scenes such as one at Newton Circus Hawker Centre, where the characters gorge on street food like satay and roti prata.

You might even think that Singapore nudged the filmmakers to include some shots that look like STB advertisements – there are bird’s eye views of fireworks over Marina Bay Sands and the “supertrees” at the Gardens by the Bay.

But although Singapore provided a production assistance grant to Warner Bros, all the creative choices were left to the filmmakers, said Ng.

While Ng would not disclose the amount of grant money given to the studio, he said it was “a small fraction” of the film’s US$30 million (S$41 million) budget.

Crazy Rich Asians premiered in the US last Wednesday (15 August), and will also be released in Australia, the United Kingdom, and South-east Asia. It will premiere in Singapore on Tuesday (21 August) at the Capitol Theatre.

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