Considering how rarely Hollywood green-lights movies with Asian casts, what’s remarkable about Crazy Rich Asians is really how little changed between Kevin Kwan’s book and the movie. The protagonist Rachel Chu, an American-born NYU professor, wasn’t turned white, as some producers initially suggested, and her boyfriend Nick Young’s crazy-rich extended family acts in pretty much the same way that they do in the book series. Because a two-hour movie can’t contain everything that a novel describes, the movie does cut or otherwise simplify a lot of the book’s secondary story lines, focusing in on Rachel and Nick’s romance, which gets a lot more, well, cinematic. Essentially, the book is a social satire with romance; the movie is more of a rom-com with social satire. Here’s your guide to what changed along the way.
Astrid has a simpler story line.
In both the book and the movie, Nick’s impossibly glamorous cousin Astrid (played by the impossibly glamorous Gemma Chan) is navigating a failing marriage with her husband, Michael Teo, a former military man who feels emasculated by her wealth. In the book, Astrid discovers a text that implies Michael’s having an affair, though it turns out he was only staging an affair to drive them apart. She investigates, and eventually leaves Michael with the help of her ex-fiancé Charlie Wu, a new-money playboy Astrid’s family never approved of who shows up at the story’s big wedding.
In the movie, the affair seems real, and Astrid decides to leave Michael on her own, with some emotional support from Rachel, with whom she bonds at bachelorette party (in the book, Astrid sends a friend to help Rachel at the party). Charlie Wu only appears in a mid-credits sequence making Important and Sexual Eye Contact with Astrid at a party. The filmmakers shot more scenes with Charlie (played by Glee’s Harry Shum Jr.), but decided to cut them to focus on Astrid, leaving room for more of him in a potential sequel. This means Shum gets single-card billing in the movie for what’s essentially a cameo. Crazy good agents!
Peik Lin is a lot funnier, and has more to do.
Peik Lin, played by Awkwafina, is Rachel’s nouveau riche friend from Stanford who lives in Singapore. Their wealth initially impresses Rachel, until she realizes just how much richer Nick’s old-money family is. In the book, Peik Lin has no idea who Nick is, proof of how secretive his family is, while in the movie, she’s immediately awestruck when Rachel mentions his name. Since Awkwafina’s playing Peik Lin, she also gets to be a lot funnier (as does her father, played by Ken Jeong), and appear in more of the plot. Peik Lin manages to get an invite to Nick’s mother’s party, and bonds with his gay cousin Olivier T’sien, while the two give Rachel a makeover together. The book’s other minor characters, including the uptight Eddie Cheng (Ronny Chieng) and the ludicrous, gold-digging soap opera star Kitty Pong (Fiona Xie), get less attention in the movie, with their action playing out mostly in the background.
Rachel’s mother’s backstory is subtly different.
In the book, Rachel’s mother Kerry is a real estate agent in Cupertino, who left China and pulled together the money to fund her daughter’s education at Stanford. When Nick’s mother Eleanor digs into Rachel’s past, she discovers that Kerry was married to a (now-imprisoned) communist party official named Zhou Fang Min in China, who isn’t dead as Kerry had always claimed. Rachel’s shocked, and fights with her mother over the phone, lashing out at her. They only reconcile once Nick gets Kerry to fly to Singapore before Rachel leaves for China to meet Fang Min. Kerry explains that she had an affair with another man named Kao Wei, who was actually Rachel’s father, and fled once she got pregnant. She also knows Fang Min couldn’t be Rachel’s father because when he wasn’t physically abusing her, he had “peculiar habits” in bed that wouldn’t get anyone pregnant.
In the movie, Kerry also lives in New York like Rachel, and initially has a similar role (though instead of telling Rachel to buy gifts for Eleanor, she insists she wear a red dress). Once Eleanor reveals that she knows about Kerry’s past, however, Nick gets Kerry to fly to Singapore more quickly, and she and Rachel reconcile more quickly. The backstory is similar, though the anal-sex joke from the book was (thankfully) cut from the movie. Rachel’s real father plays a part in the book’s sequels, which means he could definitely appear in the later movies.
The movie adds a big Rachel–Eleanor confrontation
Much of the tension between Rachel and Eleanor in the book plays out under the surface, with Eleanor secretly investigating Rachel and Rachel doing her best to win her approval, a quest that ends when Eleanor reveals the results of her snooping. In the book, Rachel never faces Eleanor again after their confrontation, which happens much later in the plot. Nick is also further estranged from his mother in the book, staying with his friend Colin, and not returning back to his family’s estate. (Nick’s workaholic father, a background character in the book, never shows up in the movie.)
In the movie, Rachel is made of sterner stuff and after Nick proposes to her (which doesn’t happen in the book), she turns him down and decides to face Eleanor over a game of mah-jongg, where she tells Eleanor that her insistence of controlling Nick is going to make her lose her son. There, Kerry, who doesn’t meet Eleanor in the book, gets to make Important and Motherly Eye Contact with Eleanor, as Asian and Asian-American parenting values face off.
… and a big rom-com moment.
After Rachel proves her mettle to Eleanor in mah-jongg in the movie, Eleanor passes off her ring to Nick, who races to the airport to propose to Rachel like he’s in a late-season episode of Friends. The airplane proposal, the big green ring (which comes with a backstory about how Nick’s grandmother never liked Eleanor), and the Mandarin cover of “Yellow” are all new additions in the movie, as is the firework-studded engagement party on top of the Marina Bay Sands hotel. Nick and Rachel do get engaged in the book series, but not until the second installment, China Rich Girlfriend, where all sorts of other complications come up. We keep saying this, but yes, there’s definitely room for a sequel.