Upon its release in August 2018, Crazy Rich Asians, the movie adapted from Kevin Kwan’s novel, made an impressive $240 million at the international box office. It was also nominated for a whole host of awards, as well as being celebrated as the first Hollywood studio film to feature an all-Westernized Asian-American cast since 1993. Kwan’s new stand-alone novel Sex and Vanity has already had its film rights snapped up by Sony Pictures almost immediately after its release on 30 June. But can we expect the same international success?
Although Kwan has written two other sequels for Crazy Rich Asians, Sex and Vanity revolves around an entirely new set of characters. The plot centres on a young woman, Lucie Churchill, who meets George Zao, at a decadent family wedding in Italy. Though she claims to find him equally fascinating and repelling, she finds it hard to stay away from him. We are then taken forward five years later, where Lucie is engaged to one of New York’s richest socialites, Cecil Pike, before George suddenly renters her life. Lucie is then forced to choose between the life she knows and her long suppressed desires for George.
The story moves between the opulent playgrounds of the super-rich: from New York to Capri, Italy. It provides a vibrant escapism which is especially needed when most of us will be enjoying holidays at home for the foreseeable future. Kwan has stated that the narrative is a homage to E.M. Forster’s 1908 classic A Room With A View, bringing a recognisable romantic tale a modern and glitteringly luxurious edge.
By once again bringing an Asian-American cast to a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster the need for more diversity in Hollywood casting is highlighted
For those wondering if this new offering will be just as popular as Kwan’s first novel adaptation, the answer is looking very likely. Sex and Vanity retains the key elements that catapulted Crazy Rich Asians into success: a satirical look at the lifestyles of the mega rich, a sly commentary on class differences, and of course at the centre a gripping love story.
By once again bringing an Asian-American cast to a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster the need for more diversity in Hollywood casting is highlighted. It also provides the chance for people to see characters they can identify with without the usual prejudiced stereotypes that predominate Asian character portrayals in the film industry. Constance Wu, star of Crazy Rich Asians, told Time Magazine in 2018 that she was glad to get the long overdue chance to show that ‘we are not supporting roles. We are stars on our own journeys’.
At a time when the world is being gripped by uncertainty, this flippant portrayal of this kind of wealth may seem untimely, but ultimately it provides the escapism most people are yearning for
Herein lies the secret to Kwan’s success: Sex and Vanity can act as a glitzy rom-com escapism for audience members who are looking for little more than a peek into a lifestyle that appears almost as a fantasy. Whereas those who are looking for a subtle commentary on the injustices surrounding race and class can find that too. Judging by the novel’s generous description of top designer brands, clothing and sportscars, the film version of this story promises the same lavish visuals. With no information yet on cast or crew, the film remains a mystery with the only confirmed feature being the same beautiful set designs and magnificent costumes as Crazy Rich Asians. At a time when the world is being gripped by uncertainty, this flippant portrayal of this kind of wealth may seem untimely, but ultimately it provides the escapism most people are yearning for.
With Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asian sequels China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems also set for cinematic release, this modern twist on the overtired rom-com seems ready for a new level of success. The times of eurocentrism in the rom-com film genre at last seem to be ending. As a result, hopefully other parts of Hollywood will view Kwan’s international success as a long overdue sign to include the wider diversity of cast members that audiences have been waiting for.