How ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Got Its Crazy Rich Interiors

Bachelor party on a yacht, you say? Sure, but anyone with money can do that. Instead, this stag night shall be held on a private cargo ship, ostentatiously outfitted with a casino, helipad, basketball court, climbing wall, hot tubs, dance floors, and a Rolls Royce converted into a DJ booth.

Such is the ostentatious aesthetic of “Crazy Rich Asians,” the new Singapore-set movie in which undeniable wealth is not effectively flaunted by buying big items from brand names, but by creatively customizing your luxuries with enough bespoke details so that imitators couldn’t buy them if they tried.

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

“The American version of ‘rich’ is like, ‘Expensive! Vegas! The bigger, the better!’ But in Singapore, it’s all about being unique,” says director Jon M. Chu. “For example, it’s not in the movie, but Singapore has the only Starbucks franchise that’s in someone’s house — with actual employees.”

Opening August 15, “Crazy Rich Asians” stars Constance Wu as an Asian-American professor who flies to Singapore with her beau (Henry Golding), only to learn that he hails from an outrageously affluent family. The aforementioned bash only whets audiences’ appetites for the corresponding wedding, which is teased in Kevin Kwan’s hit novel as “the wedding of the century,” costing upwards of $40 million.

“The American version of ‘rich’ is like, ‘Expensive! Vegas! The bigger, the better!’ But in Singapore, it’s all about being unique.”

“It’s supposed to be the most over-the-top event — how do we do something no one has ever seen before, while still make it feel of the region and these characters?” asks production designer Nelson Coates. The result: a lush, faux landscape built inside Chijmes — a 19th-century Catholic convent in Singapore that now operates as a popular event venue — that includes hand-painted lanterns, a traditional Chinese moon gate, and an aisle that allows the bride to literally walk on water.

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

“They’re so wealthy that instead of just having flower arrangements, they brought the whole botanical garden into the church!” explains Coates. Onscreen, the wedding’s attendees are seated in a makeshift meadow made of custom velvet benches and blades of artificial grass that stand three feet tall. It was all built atop a set of modules that could be unloaded and fitted quickly. “If the camera or crew needed to move around, we could easily pull the blades out of these peg boards and save them for the next shot,” he says. “When you design for a movie, you have to design for actually working in the space, not just how it looks on camera.”

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

While the film’s wedding festivities are more fantastical fanfare, its centerpiece, Tyersall Park—the legendary family estate—needed to be the epitome of elegance without falling into kitsch or garish territory. “It had to show extreme wealth and family history but, in real life, we have a limited movie budget, not the resources of this dynasty family,” says Coates of the Young clan, led onscreen by Michelle Yeoh. The palatial manor onscreen is a composite of Carcosa Seri Negara, two Malaysian mansions in the Perdana Botanical Gardens that previously housed the local British governor in the early 1900s. The buildings then briefly served as a boutique hotel, before being abandoned.

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

Coates and his crew completely rehauled the homes inside and out (after evicting the newfound bat inhabitants, that is), and opulently outfitted them in the traditional Peranakan architectural style, which originated in the Singapore Straits and features a hybrid of Chinese, Taiwanese, Hong Kong and European influences. A third structure — a conservatory, ideal for housing rare plants and exotic birds — was built on site in just 16 days, so that the film’s massive family party could resemble a Gatsby-esque bash that spilled onto the perfectly manicured lawn. “The crew jokingly called it Downton Asians,” says Coates.

This decadent residence hilariously contrasts that of the Goh family, played by Ken Jeong and Awkwafina. “They’re in a crazy fabrication of, ‘You think we’re rich because we paint everything gold!” says Coates. “It was so funny to have that dichotomy of what people think it is to live big with your money.”

(Image credit: Warner Bros. Pictures)

All of the grandeur is cleverly captured from the fish-out-of-water perspective of Wu’s character, who becomes the subject of fascination amongst Singapore’s high society. “She’s in this brand new world, looking at everything, hearing all the whispers in the background around her,” says Chu. “We always tried to shoot from her perspective, to get how it feels to walk into these spaces, and what are the visuals that make you feel that pressure. Whether you’re Asian or not, I really want the audience to feel what it’s like to be in her shoes.”

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