How Accurate Was Crazy Rich Asians? Insider Woffles Wu Tells All
August 27, 2018 | BY Daphne Chen-Cordeiro
“Like Tyersall Park, it is true that there are elite houses that do not show up on Google Maps,” says Woffles Wu
“All the scenes of Ah Ma reminded me of my own grandmother,” says Woffles Wu, most well-known for his plastic surgery practice. Born in Singapore, but spent his growing years in London, Woffles was also the executive producer of the 2006 film Singapore Dreaming and recently published his memoir Life In Plastic.
He runs in the same circles as the film's ultra-rich characters, him being the maternal nephew of Ong Teng Cheong, the fifth President and is cousins with Tina Tan-Leo, who once fronted Singapore's top luxury retailer.
When did you watch the film?
Woffles Wu (WW) I watched Crazy Rich Asians on opening night, waiting with bated breath and nervous anticipation to see if director Jon M. Chu (who is not Singaporean), would make a cringe-worthy mess of it. For some months now, I have wondered if he would portray us accurately or resort to painting us as painful caricatures of ourselves as so many foreign directors have done before.
My fears were completely unfounded. Jon M. Chu has proven to be a masterful director, in the vein of the great Ang Lee, who has created a quintessentially Singaporean film with a glamorous and polished Hollywood feel that all the world can be proud of. The film is hugely believable with sensitive and nuanced characters that have been well-developed and fleshed out by an extremely talented cast of international and home-grown stars.
The casting was perfect, accents and all. Within the first five minutes I was already loving the film and laughing out loud at the familiar situations where old and new money collide in the upper echelons of our society. True, the film does not represent all of Singapore but it was never intended to nor was the book. Instead, it vicariously opens a window to those who lead lives of immense privilege.
Were there elements in the film that made you cringe?
WW Hardly any. Although some scenes may appear exaggerated to outsiders, I can safely vouch that they are all real and do exist, down to Bernard Tai’s obnoxious and odious behaviour and Eddie Cheng’s control freak mentality.
The first scene: Buying the Calthorpe hotel on a whim… have you heard of this in real-life before?
WW Yes. It is real. There have been not one but several such occasions, each involving different personalities or families.
Bachelor party in the middle of nowhere, dinner party at Tyersall Park, Colin and Araminta’s wedding: Which party was most accurate to real life, and how?
WW It’s all real! In fact, some of the parties I have attended have been even more grand and outlandish than those portrayed in the film. Perhaps the wedding scene in Chijmes was a bit over the top with the bride walking in on a river running through the chapel but what the heck, it's a rom com and not a serious social documentary.
While it was shot on location in a colonial bungalow in Malaysia, is there a real-life Tyersall Park in Singapore, or have you been to an estate that is similar?
WW Absolutely! The Tyersall Park house perched on acres of land with all its lavish trappings certainly exists. There are in fact more fabulous homes in Singapore than the Tyersall Park house portrayed in the film. And it is also true that there are elite houses in posh districts that do not show up on GPS or in Google maps.
What about the mahjong parlour–fact or fiction? Are there hidden ones that exist in Singapore?
WW Fact! Yes, there are. Many. All similar to the one depicted in the film except that they are no longer in Chinatown as many used to be. As a child I was often taken to such parlours or clubs by my mahjong-mad family.
The stark differences in taste between old money and new money: how much truth is in that?
WW It is a thoroughly accurate observation of how old and new money operate. Those from old families—whether crazily rich or not—invariably adhere to strict rules of protocol and decorum where traditions and customs dominate. Discretion is the order of the day. Old money families tend to be more conservative and are highly protective of their privacy, seldom giving in to extreme displays of opulence and flagrant spending that may draw attention to themselves. But the money is certainly all there as can be evidenced by their cars and real estate they own. There are so many rich families in Singapore that operate well under the social radar.
New money, on the other hand, has no qualms about displaying their vast wealth. It does seem that they have fewer rules about behaviour and protocol and this perhaps leads to episodes of excessive lavish spending, like the lady with 300 crocodile Birkins or the son of a China tycoon who bought gold Apple Watches for each of his dog's paws.
All in all, Crazy Rich Asians is an absolute must see. Take it for what it is—a wonderful rom com.
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