The romantic comedy, opening in movie theatres on Wednesday and starring Constance Wu, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina and newcomer Henry Golding, is the first with an all-Asian ensemble cast from a major studio in 25 years.
“Fresh Off the Boat” actress Wu plays New York economics professor Rachel Chu, who flies to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family only to discover that it is one of the wealthiest in the country.
Amid the lavish parties and romantic setbacks, the film highlights the clash of Western and Asian cultures and the tension between old-money Chinese families in Singapore and the nouveau riche.
It is also a love letter to Singapore, as the camera lingers on the city’s modern and traditional architecture, parks, nearby tropical beaches, street food and music.
“I wanted to reflect that this was a warm place, that it was not a strange alien planet that you are going to, as Asia is often depicted,” said director Jon M Chu, who was raised in California by Taiwanese parents and had never previously been to Singapore.
The cast was drawn from Taiwan, Britain, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, the United States and Australia, along with Singapore, where it was filmed.
“It was like a swap meet of experiences of being Asian in different countries,” said Golding, who was born in Malaysia and raised in Britain.
“Everybody had struggled in some aspect with their identity, so to be able to share that and come together and strengthen together, you could not even imagine,” he said.
Gemma Chan, a London-born actress of Chinese heritage, said that making the movie had made her re-think her identity.
“When I was younger, as most children do, you just wanted to fit in. My Barbies had blond hair and blue eyes. I always felt, I am different, I wish I was not different.
“Now I feel more proud than ever of my Asian heritage and it is something I can happily embrace,” she said.
While the film is unapologetically Asian, even down to a game of Mahjong and a dumpling-making scene, the filmmakers say its themes of family, love and the struggle to be accepted are universal.
“It is a rare movie that is culturally specific, yet for the world,” said actor Ken Jeong.