You’ve almost certainly heard of Crazy Rich Asians by now, and you might even know that it’s adapted from a book. But is it fact or fiction? Is the family in Crazy Rich Asians real? You might think the answer is obvious based on the fact that the huge extended family — really, families — at the center of the story are so unbelievably rich. But while the families aren’t real, families like them are. And the displays of wealth written in the book and shown in the movie aren’t even exaggerated.
The three big family branches in Crazy Rich Asians are the Youngs, the Shangs, and the T’siens, all of which have overlapping relations and marriages in order to keep their old money and social status as condensed as possible. The drama in the story is centered around the fact that Nick Young, an heir in the family who is meant to be with a woman of similar status, wants to marry an American, Rachel Chu. The book even provides a very useful family tree in the front, because there are so many characters and relationships to keep track of.
While the Youngs, Shangs, and T’siens aren’t real, they are loosely based on author Kevin Kwan’s real family. A profile of Kwan from Vulture notes that he himself is a part of three intertwined families: the Ohs, the Kwans, and the Hus. His paternal grandmother is the daughter of the founder of one of Singapore’s oldest banks. Like the characters in the book, Kwan was part of a very rich segment of society — at least until he moved with his parents to Texas when he was 12.
Kwan shared more details about his family — along with some very glamorous old photos — in a piece for Town & Country ahead of the release of the movie. "Crazy Rich Asians may be fiction, but given the situation I grew up in, I’ve had an unparalleled view into the very real world it depicts," he writes. "I come from an old establishment family from Singapore. Our family tree goes back to the year 946."
Kwan has also said that random people have come up to him thinking that they inspired characters in the book, but as he told Refinery29, "I know all my characters — or the people who inspired them — very intimately. If I don’t know you, I can promise you you’re not in the book."
As for the over-the-top parties, fashion, and homes in Crazy Rich Asians, those have a basis in reality, too. Kwan told Vanity Fair in a 2013 interview that his editor even had him cut out some details because they would be too unbelievable for readers, even though they were things that actually happened in real life. "So many aspects of and stories in the book I actually had to tone down!" he told Vanity Fair. "The reality is simply unbelievable. They say truth is sometimes stranger than fiction, but there’s such a thing as believability when you’re writing a novel. I did a lot more simplifying and cutting out of the decadence and the excess than I did of adding it on, if you can believe that."
When you go see Crazy Rich Asians, you can watch knowing that there isn’t a real Nick Young or Astrid Leong out there. But, you can also watch knowing that on the other side of the world there really are absolutely ridiculous weddings like Colin and Araminta’s happening.
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