Crazy Rich Asians’ Proposal Scene Was Changed at the Last Minute

Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures

“We need to rip it up,” director Jon M. Chu thought a few weeks into production on Crazy Rich Asians. It was the night before they shot the second proposal scene, when the dashing, slightly naïve Nicholas Young (Henry Golding) makes a Big Sweeping Gesture to his girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) as she’s boarding a plane back to New York, saying he’ll fly coach (!) back with her, but will she marry him first. Chu was going through his notes, the storyboard, and the shot list, and the scene didn’t feel right. “In the script, they’re actually sitting next to each other. [Rachel] sits down in coach and doesn’t realize that [Nick is] sitting right next to her. He puts down a paper, and he’s just there,” says Chu. “I was like, this is problematic. I do not want another talking scene. We need energy, I need movement.”

The morning of the shoot, Chu decided to improvise and have Golding out of his seat. Instead of sitting side by side, Nick proposes to Rachel while going through a choreography of helping the other passengers: putting their carry-on luggage in the overhead bins, squeezing past others, and then hopping across the middle aisle of seats to do the proposal. “There was a lot of pressure because even Nina [Jacobson], our producer who was there that day, didn’t know what I was constructing at this point,” said Chu. “Everyone was very unsure of suddenly changing the script and having him go down the aisle.”

“It actually brought me back to Step Up 2: The Streets,” said Chu. “The reason that dance at the end works is because we turn on the rain, and suddenly [the dancers are] not rehearsing anymore — they’re fighting to survive the elements.” He found that Golding too, who was on his first movie set ever with CRA, could tap into his natural charisma more when he had physical barriers to go through. “He didn’t think about the lines too much. The only direction was, ‘You want to express how much you love her and that you dreamt of this moment the whole time,’” said Chu. “By using his ease of charm, fighting through, trying not to be rude, and his ad-libs, like, that’s naturally Henry.”

“It wasn’t the perfect proposal, and that wasn’t what was important; it was just those two, and that’s what really helped with that scene,” added Golding. “You can have this picture-perfect proposal, but at the end of it, it’s not any of that. It’s what you feel, and the journey they went on. I wanted him to be out of breath; he’s been running halfway through this airport trying to catch [her]. Fuck it.”

The proposal went through multiple drafts, and most of them were grand moments. There was one where Nick stops all traffic in Singapore while Rachel is on her way to the airport; there was another where he buys out the entire plane. They considered scenarios where Rachel arrives back in New York only to see that Nick is already there; he brings her back her favorite dessert, proposes, and after she says yes, he reveals an orchestra and helicopter outside. But ultimately, Chu and screenwriters Adele Lim and Peter Chiarelli decided to go with something humble and pared down. “The second proposal had to be the most true to who he is: This needs to be the New York Nick, the guy we meet in the beginning of this movie,” said Chu. “We also wanted to make the point [that] she’s not going back to him for all this money. So we needed to make it the simplest version of a proposal as possible, and to make him work for it with these people and these obstacles.”

The production had similar obstacles of time and money. They had to shoot other airport scenes that day, so they only had half a day to shoot the proposal scene. Moreover, they didn’t have the budget to build a set, so instead they shot on an actual plane sitting on the tarmac of the Kuala Lumpur airport. Chu’s new vision of having Golding and Wu move down two separate aisles created a logistical puzzle: rather than shooting simple over-the-shoulder coverage had they been seated next to each other, now the production team had to remove seats from one side of the plane in order to shoot each character’s coverage — a process that took at least 45 minutes each time. So what they did was remove seats from Golding’s side to shoot Wu’s coverage and then did the inverse in another section of the plane to save time. “Everything was against us,” said Chu. “The air-conditioning barely worked. It wasn’t fun.”

And then, there was the ring. There was the first ring that Nick had proposed with (the one he showed his best friend Colin), and then there was his mother Eleanor’s (Michelle Yeoh) ring, which would symbolize her approval of their marriage. The proposal was less about Nick and Rachel’s feelings for each other — they were never in question — but whether Rachel could be accepted by his family. (Hence the all-important mah-jongg scene between Rachel and Eleanor before that.) So the ring needed to be a showstopper.

“We had a ring designed already, and our mock-up looked so shitty that Michelle [Yeoh] was like, That cannot be the ring I wear,” laughs Chu. “I’m like, I know, I know. I’m so embarrassed by it, but we don’t have the money. She’s like, I have a better ring than that.” So Yeoh asked her assistant to get her box of jewelry and pulled out the ring that Nick eventually proposes with: an emerald and diamond one she bought as a gift to herself. Chu remembers, “She pulls it out, and I was like, Oh my gosh, that’s our ring.

Ultimately, the gamble paid off. During a couple of test screenings, Chu says one commenter felt the proposal was derivative: “We’ve seen this scene before,” he remembers. Then a group of college-aged Asian-American women responded with, “Fuck you. We have not seen this scene before. This is ours now. We get that moment of the big kiss, and the big proposal. Now I can replace all those images of romantic comedies with our people.”

Crazy Rich Asians’ Proposal Scene Was Changed Last Minute