‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Adaptation Lands at Warner Bros. (EXCLUSIVE)

Jon M. Chu
Andrew H. Walker/Variety/REX/Shutterstock

Warner Bros. has acquired “Crazy Rich Asians” and has fast-tracked the romantic-comedy for production. It will be one of the only major studio movies to feature an exclusively Asian cast. Rights for the project attracted a heated bidding war.

“Crazy Rich Asians” unfolds in a world of opulence, as new and old money collide among a set of Chinese families living in Singapore. It’s being pitched as a combination of “Devil Wears Prada” and “Pride & Prejudice,” and follows Rachel Chu, a Chinese-American economics professor and her boyfriend, Nick Young. When Nick invites Rachel to attend his best friend’s wedding in his home town of Singapore, he fails to mention that as the heir to a massive fortune, he is viewed as the country’s most eligible bachelor.

Color Force’s Nina Jacobson her partner Brad Simpson came on board two years ago when Kevin Kwan’s book of the same name was still in the manuscript stage.

“It was just a page turner in and of itself,” said Jacobson. “It was a delight to be taken into this world that as a Westerner I didn’t know. It felt so new and fresh and gave you so much insight.”

Color Force, which produced “The Hunger Games” series, brought in Ivanhoe Pictures, the maker of “In the Bedroom,” and developed the project and packaged the film with Jon M. Chu directing from a screenplay by Adele Lim (Fox’s “Lethal Weapon”) and Pete Chiarelli (“The Proposal”). To get the gig, Chu, a first-generation Asian-American, put together a visual presentation that included family photos to show his deeply personal connection to the material.

Jacobson and Simpson knew that finding the right studio home would take a lot of time and effort. Aside from “The Joy Luck Club,” which was a hit when it came out in 1993, and “Memoirs of a Geisha,” which was not when it bowed 12 years later, there have been very few U.S.-backed films centered around Asian characters and experiences. It also comes at a time when the romantic-comedy genre is struggling. It’s been a long time since “Pretty Woman” and “Notting Hill” filled theaters, and with a few exceptions, such as “Trainwreck,” most studios have largely stopped making meet-cute films. The “Crazy Rich Asians” producers think that there story and setting is a novel way to revive the genre.

“At a time where we keep asking how we can compete with TV and other offerings, it’s important to give people something different,” said Simpson. “We’re taking them to a world that hasn’t been shown much on film.”

The story may be a rarity for Hollywood, but it hits at a time when the issue of diversity is being hotly debated across the entertainment industry. The Chinese film market is second only to the U.S., but despite its box office contribution, very few films feature Asian characters. Only 5% of speaking parts in film, television, and digital programming were played by Asian actors in all of 2014, according to a study by USC. Indeed, there have been several instances of white actors playing roles that were originally designated for Asians, including Emma Stone in “Aloha” and Scarlett Johansson in the upcoming “Ghost in the Shell.”

“Inclusion is good business,” said Jacobson. “Inclusion is a way of reaching new and broader audiences and keeping material fresh.”

Production may begin as early as this spring in Singapore. The producers are embarking on a worldwide search for the cast. “Crazy Rich Asians” was a bestseller upon release, with nearly one million copies in print worldwide. Kwan saw the novel as the first in a trilogy. His follow-up, “China Rich Girlfriend,” was a commercial success, and the last installment in the series, “Rich People Problems,” debuts next summer. Kwan felt so strongly that Color Force and Ivanhoe were the right companies to produce the film that he optioned the novel for a dollar.

“I am beyond thrilled that the amazing film my fans around the world have been waiting for is finally happening,” said Kwan in a statement. “I have such tremendous respect and trust in Nina, Brad, Jon, and Warner Bros, and I know they are going to create an incredible, history-making movie.”

Simpson and Jacobson will produce along with Ivanhoe President John Penotti. Kwan will serve as executive producer along with Ivanhoe’s Chairman Robert Friedland. Courtenay Valenti and Jon Gonda will oversee the project for Warner Bros. The studio has been trying to increase diversity both in front of and behind the camera — it lined up a female director in Patty Jenkins to oversee “Wonder Woman,” and enlisted African-American filmmaker Rick Famuyiwa to oversee “The Flash.”

The deal for “Crazy Rich Asians” was negotiated by Ziffren Brittenham LLP. Kwan is represented by Alexandra Machinist at ICM and Chu by WME and Principato Young.

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  1. lara sruthi says:

    These are craziest people in the world till now
    These are the craziest people in the world. Everyone has a passion for some people their passion brings them craziest things in their life they went so far that they can’t lead their life without boing there following things. Having passion is a good thing but these people change the meaning of the passion by doing the following things. with this we can see that there are some people can do anything to follow their passion to the world(http://www.8inall.com/2016/09/craziest-people-supper-power.html)

  2. Ces says:

    Yes! Been waiting for this a long time

  3. Rex says:

    I thought all the activists were howling about “not enough Asian leads in Hollywood movies” — as in, giving Asian-American actors roles that might just as easily be played by whites, blacks, hispanics, etc. — rather than just obtaining the “status symbol” of major studio backing on a movie that simply casts Asians and Asian-Americans AS Asians in a story ABOUT Asians, something countless Asian-American filmmakers have been doing for decades while seemingly being roundly ignored at the box office and on video by the very audiences whose cultures their films represent. Apparently supporting filmmakers from your own culture who actually struggle to get compelling films made isn’t a worthwhile cause.

    Don’t see how the Crazy Rich Asians movie will change anything, really. :(

  4. Lawrence Chow says:

    This project should be a miniseries. A 2 hour movie can’t cover the scope and will leave viewers confused with all the characters.

  5. kany says:

    pls let ZiYi Zhang do the leading role

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  6. codenametuesday says:

    This has great potential — a cute story with a grand scale, especially the locations and wardrobe. Congrats to Kwan and best of luck to WB.

  7. Karen says:

    Thrilled and relieved to hear that the cast will be all Asian. Also, the first actor that came to mind for the male lead is Godfrey Gao (whom I think could also play a British-Hong Kong James Bond)

  8. juneep says:

    Racists – Asians all over the world boycott!

    • tuesday says:

      Looks like someone here hasn’t read the book. But I’m excited for this– it is a fun story and I can see a lot of similarities between Devil Wears Prada + Pretty Woman.

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