Romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians marks the first Hollywood movie in 25 years to feature Asian Americans in the lead roles. Constance Wu (Fresh Off the Boat), Awkwafina (Ocean’s 8) and Ken Jeong (the Hangover trilogy) are some of the big names among the cast.
But there’s another star — Singapore. Set to debut August 15, the film was shot entirely on location in the Southeast Asian country and Malaysia. But Singapore isn’t a mere backdrop; its landscape, food and diverse Chinese-, Malay- and Indian-influenced culture shape the story about the lives of the uber-wealthy.
“I truly think that Singapore is a perfect melting pot of Asian cultures, and what makes this city unique is its exciting and eclectic blend of tradition and modernity, and of East and West,” says Janice Koh, who plays stubborn Felicity Young in CRA.
“I love that I can hear a myriad of accents walking down any road in Singapore; that we have access to hot street food drawn from so many cultures at an affordable price; and we have Chinese temples sitting alongside Indian temples, and that devotees sometimes pray at both!” says Koh, a former Nominated Member of Parliament. “For those who have never been to Asia, it is the perfect introduction to this part of the world.”
We talked to some of the Singapore-based cast members to get their local perspective (click here for their food recommendations). Koh, Pierre Png (Michael Teo), Fiona Xie (Kitty Pong) and Tan Kheng Hua (Kerry Chu) tipped us off on where to shop, where to stay and the one attraction you can’t miss in the Lion City.
During your downtime, what do you like to do in Singapore?
Xie: Nighttime adventures at Gardens by the Bay, where one is transported to a different realm of scenes, a fusion of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids; Avatar; and Crazy Rich Asians movie set. It’s Technicolor magic on fleek.
I like to check out interesting neighborhoods like Tiong Bahru, where worlds old and new collide, or little shophouses around the Club Street, Duxton Hill, Boat Quay area.
Tan: You can often find me running or lolling about at East Coast Parkway by the beach on my own in the mornings. I love to run. And I must say, Singapore certainly does do running trails well.
I love the HortPark routes, as well as the Mount Faber routes. The park connectors are extremely gorgeous as well. When I am in these places, I enjoy silence that can be hard to find in a busy, modern, fast-moving city like ours.
Koh: I enjoy hiking and walking in the many green spaces around Singapore. We might be a densely built city, but we are also one of the greenest cities in the world. Some of my favorite treks are the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve, the Sungei Buloh wetlands, and walking the Southern Ridges from HortPark to Mount Faber.
As a stage actor and volunteer on various arts boards and committees, much of my time is spent in the theater. Singapore has a vibrant and thriving arts scene. On any given weekend, there’s often a high-quality production or an edgy new play being staged by a Singapore theater company at the Esplanade, the Victoria Theatre or the Drama Centre. My favorite companies to watch are Wild Rice, Pangdemonium, Nine Years Theatre and Singapore Repertory Theatre.
There’s nothing better than going out for a drink with friends after catching a great show. Singapore has some of Asia’s best cocktail bars, and two of the ones I like are 28 Hongkong Street and Atlas Bar.
Png: I love to pick up new hobbies. I love my aikido classes and unicycling sessions. Most recently, I picked up ballet — yes, ballet. Next on my list would be gymnastics!
What are your favorite hotels in Singapore?
Png: I like the hotels in Sentosa, an island just next to Singapore. Capella, in particular, for its ambience and great service.
Xie: Raffles hotel. The 1887 institution was featured in CRA, and it’s where the famous Singapore Sling cocktail was created.
Capella hotel. Heritage military buildings from 1880s are woven with modernity by the master himself, Norman Foster. It’s an architecture shrine to pay homage to and the iconic spot where Kim and Trump met.
Koh: The St. Regis Singapore is my staycation hotel of choice for its location near Orchard Road, its great hospitality and its personalized butler service. It was definitely not too shabby for Kim Jong Un when he stayed in Singapore recently.
The Raffles hotel is an iconic heritage hotel in Singapore, and easily its most famous. A couple of scenes from the movie Crazy Rich Asians were shot here. It’s undergoing restoration work, and is due to reopen by end 2018.
Our Crazy Rich Asians producer recently hosted a party for the Singapore cast at one of the Manors in Capella Singapore on Sentosa, and I was totally blown away by the stunning three-bedroom pool villa. If you want luxe and exclusivity, this is it.
Where do you like to shop?
Png: Parkway Parade in the eastern part of the island. It boasts a great food court and a nice mix of shops that caters to all. I also like ION mall on Orchard Road as well for its vast variety of stores and restaurants.
For luxury bags and leather goods, I shop at Ling Wu and Gnome & Bow. Whenever I need to buy gifts or souvenirs for foreign guests and friends, Onlewo, Supermama and Bynd Artisan are my go-to stores for their craftsmanship, quality and unique designs on leather, homewares and porcelain.
There aren’t many stores that carry a wide range of Singapore labels, but the closest you might get to a one-stop shop would be Keepers at the National Design Centre or Tangs department store on Orchard Road. I’m really looking forward to the upcoming Design Orchard, which will house our best Singapore labels under one roof.
If you’re a bookworm like me, BooksActually in Tiong Bahru is my favorite bookstore, and carries a wide range of literary publications, including those by Singapore writers.
Tan: I am a bargain hunter when it comes to shopping. I love Bugis Street Market and the Hari Raya Bazaar in Geylang Serai.
What is the one thing that people have to do when visiting Singapore?
Png: Visit our many hawker centers and different culture-related designated spots such as Little India, Chinatown and Geylang Serai, or Malay Village.
Xie: Eat your heart out.
Koh: When you’re in Singapore, don’t miss a trip to Gardens by the Bay. It really encapsulates the essence of Singapore as a Garden City — modern, cosmopolitan and future-forward, yet at the same time, green, environmentally conscious and sustainable.
The two conservatories are perfect to visit in the daytime, when the weather gets hot outside, and the Supertree Grove with the OCBC Skyway makes an awesome sight at night. It was also a key backdrop for a major scene in the Crazy Rich Asians movie, and I will never forget the many nights we spent filming there with hundreds and hundreds of extras.
What were some of the highlights of making Crazy Rich Asians?
Xie: Filming the Gardens by the Bay wedding scenes was epic. Synchronized swimmers atop Marina Bay Sands’ pool overlooking the entire city skyline and dancing away with true joy with the entire cast were such blast!
Png: It would be getting to know the other cast members; working on a Hollywood set; getting to know the director, Jon M. Chu; meeting Kevin Kwan, the author of the book Crazy Rich Asians in person; and wearing a Paul Newman Rolex Daytona for the movie!
Koh: Some of the highlights of working on the movie were the chance to spend downtime with our international cast in Singapore, chasing down street food, dim sum and the many nights belting it out at karaoke bars on Orchard Road. It was a whole lot of fun. The chance to work with Michelle Yeoh was also a big plus for me. I’m such a fangirl.
But the best part of working on Crazy Rich Asians was the opportunity to be part of an all-Asian cast in a landmark Hollywood movie, with Singapore being featured as a backdrop for the story. It is a privilege to be part of it.