Kevin Kwan’s rollicking satire Crazy Rich Asians is the latest blockbuster book to get the Hollywood treatment, bringing its story of a Chinese-American NYU professor meeting her boyfriend’s obscenely wealthy family in Singapore to the big screen this weekend.
As is always the case when adapting a book, some notable changes were made from page to screen. Kwan’s novel, for example, has a biting tone and follows a wide range of characters, while director Jon M. Chu’s film is more of a carefully calibrated romantic comedy. Here’s a rundown of the other major differences between Crazy Rich Asians the book and Crazy Rich Asians the movie. Warning: There are copious spoilers for both the book and film below, so read at your own risk.
Rachel in her element
Though the book repeatedly tells us that Rachel Chu is a successful economics professor at NYU, we don’t get a chance to see her in action in her classroom. In the film, we meet her (played by Constance Wu) kicking butt in a poker game as part of a lecture demonstrating game theory and the concept of “playing to win.” That’s another change: In the movie, Rachel is specifically a professor of game theory, which plays a key role in the film’s climactic mahjong game. Seeing Rachel at work gives us a better sense of how much she has to offer her boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding), and the traits that make her a worthy adversary to his mother, Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh).
Spring break, woo!
On the page, Nick invites Rachel to join him in Asia for the entire summer, with his best friend Colin’s wedding proposed as just the first stop on a multiweek trip. On screen, everything is condensed into the span of a spring break, raising the stakes on the amount of time Rachel has to make a favorable impression on the Youngs.
The Youngs’ wealth
In the novel, the Youngs are such a classy, old-money family that none of the nouveau riche in-gossip heavy Singapore, like Peik Lin’s (Awkwafina) family, have even heard of them. They guard their family and their wealth by shrouding them in secrecy. In the film, everyone has heard of the Youngs and their jaw-dropping assets: When Rachel reveals to Peik Lin’s family that the Nick she is dating is Nick Young, they freak out. This prompts another change, in that Peik Lin accompanies Rachel to the party at Tyersall Park, Nick’s grandmother’s house. She gets invited to stay and therefore can help Rachel navigate the rough waters of upper-class society, as well as hilariously select an alternative outfit from the emergency clothes in her trunk.
Astrid and Michael
Astrid (Gemma Chan), Nick’s cousin and one of the only women in the story who looks kindly on Rachel rather than seeing her as a gold-digging threat, gets perhaps the biggest onscreen overhaul. We see a great deal more of her life in the book, opening with her in Paris conducting her annual couture shopping trip, following her to Shanghai to purchase jewels, and more. In the movie she’s much more of a supporting character — and there’s a pretty significant change.
In the novel, Astrid discovers early on that her husband, Michael (Pierre Png), is having an affair, and she spends much of the book chasing after him. She eventually learns that he faked the entire liaison to secure a divorce from Astrid because he can’t stand the pressures of being married to someone with a wealthy family and being looked down on by her relatives. Amid all this, she reconnects with old flame Charlie Wu (Harry Shum Jr.), who works to help her rekindle her relationship with Michael out of his love for her. In the movie, Michael’s affair is real (at least as far as we’re told). Charlie is absent from the proceedings, except for a brief, wordless appearance in a mid-credits scene suggesting that a sequel might delve more into this relationship if it comes to fruition. Additionally, Astrid gets to have a bit more inner strength here, standing up to Michael and his indiscretions rather than pleading with him to return to their home.
The bachelor party
Colin Khoo’s (Chris Pang) bachelor party is still an epic fail from which he and Nick resolve to escape, but it’s more condensed on screen. Bernard (Jimmy O. Yang) makes a joke about bachelor parties with dog fights, drugs, and hookers being something any “a—hole” can plan, and ironically, that’s precisely the party he plans in the novel. Here though, everything is moved to a large shipping freighter converted to a bachelor bacchanal on the open seas. In the novel, Colin escapes with a few other friends from his school days, but in the movie it’s just him and Nick, leaving them open to discuss Nick’s desire to propose to Rachel and the challenges he’ll face.
The bachelorette party
Araminta’s (Sonoya Mizuno) bachelorette party hews closer to its original version, but there are still a few key changes. In the novel, it’s Francesca who antagonizes Rachel at the bachelorette party, speaking loudly about gold diggers and her past relationship with Nick. Later, Rachel meets Nick’s high school ex, Mandy, and then at the wedding discovers Francesca and Mandy once had a threesome with Nick. All that cattiness and those major reveals are condensed and take place at the bachelorette party in the movie. Additionally, Francesca is nothing more than a bit player, with Amanda Ling (Jing Lusi) becoming a composite of Mandy and Francesca in the film. Lastly, while Rachel’s savior at the bachelorette party is Sophie, a relative of Astrid’s, in the movie it’s Astrid herself who comes to the rescue, helping Rachel ignore the mean-girl hijinks and opening up to her about Michael’s affair. In doing so, she cements a stronger bond between two women facing the pressures and disapproval of their families when it comes to their significant others.
In the movie, the wedding of Araminta and Colin features a brand-new character who is essential to showing the families of Singapore just what Rachel is made of. Princess Intan (Kris Aquino) arrives, and Eleanor and her family make a fuss over how the princess has requested a row to herself to avoid contact with others. Rachel doesn’t know this, and when rejected by Eleanor, she goes to sit with the princess, complimenting the woman on an article she wrote about micro-loans designed to help women in need. This impresses the princess, earning Rachel her respect and surprising everyone in the church.
Eleanor and Rachel
Perhaps the biggest changes in the film involve Eleanor Young. On the page, she’s largely a scheming woman, determined to keep Rachel away from Nick at any cost. We hear whispers of the sacrifices she’s made for her family, but we get no clear idea of what those might be. Additionally, in the book, she doesn’t actually meet Rachel until nearly three quarters of the way through the story. She misses the party at Tyersall Park because she’s in China meeting with a private investigator to dig up dirt on Rachel. On screen, the two meet much earlier — at Nick’s grandmother’s party, where Rachel meets Nick’s entire family.
This provides numerous opportunities for the pair to interact in ways they don’t in the book. Invited by family matriarch Ah Ma (Lisa Lu), Rachel joins the Youngs for a dumpling-making party, where food and conversation are used for metaphor about family and Rachel’s potential place in theirs. We learn more about Eleanor’s past here — that she was not a favored choice to marry Nick’s father (hence her emerald ring, because Ah Ma wouldn’t allow her to have a family heirloom), and that she abandoned her studies and potential career once she met Nick’s dad and decided to devote her life to family. We get a much stronger sense of what Eleanor has given up and fought against to protect Nick, making her face-off with Rachel and her disdain for Rachel’s American-ness bound up in a whole lot more than Rachel’s net worth.
Finally, the pair meet in a climactic mahjong game in which Rachel lays everything out on the table, including the fact that she refused Nick’s proposal, leaving the ball in Eleanor’s court. So much is said between the two of them (much of it without saying anything at all), and though she is the primary antagonist, Eleanor gets a redemption on screen that she never has on the page: She gives Nick her blessing to propose to Rachel, which becomes evident when he pops the question with Eleanor’s custom-made emerald ring.
You can’t have a rom-com without a grand romantic gesture, and Nick gets several in the movie — the most notable being two proposals he is denied in the book. In the novel, Rachel and Nick take a romantic getaway to his family’s house, the Cameron Highlands, in Malaysia. He intends to propose to her there, but they’re interrupted by Eleanor and Ah Ma, who reveal the truth about Rachel’s father to her.
On screen, there is no romantic getaway and the truth about Rachel’s father is more vague. In the novel, she learns that the man she thinks is her father is in prison and makes moves to fly to China to meet him before being intercepted by her mother, who reveals that Rachel is the love child of a man who helped protect her from her husband’s cruelty. In the film, the man is a school friend of Rachel’s mother, and she is told all this by Eleanor at the wedding reception. Her mom still comes to visit, but only as comfort for Rachel, not to make amends and explain herself. (It’s a welcome change, as it’s hard to believe someone as close to their mom as Rachel would be so angry as to refuse to speak to her under the circumstances.)
Here, Rachel gets two proposals. Nick proposes first at the side of the harbor with a ring he’s purchased after Rachel agrees to see him one last time before she leaves. We don’t know her response until she reveals it to Eleanor in their mahjong game and departs with her mother to fly home. But then, she gets another proposal cut from classic rom-com cloth: Nick chases Rachel onto her flight home to New York and gets down on one knee a second time, revealing Eleanor’s emerald ring and thereby her blessing. Instead of returning home to NYC, Rachel goes back to Singapore with Nick for a massive engagement party, giving them the happily-ever-after only hinted at on the page before being picked up in the sequel China Rich Girlfriend.