More than music: The 'Crazy Rich Asians' soundtrack hits all the right notes

MANILA, Philippines – It’s easy to get caught up in the flash and glamour of Crazy Rich Asians' stunning visuals (and also, the stunning cast), but when you do watch the film, remember to pay attention to the music.

The soundtrack and score in this movie doesn't just accompany the film – it's another layer of storytelling altogether, and is both carefully curated and meaningful not only to the plot, but to the production.

Big band jazz meets contemporary pop

Crazy Rich Asians’ music is a ragtag blend that combines the old-Hollywood glamour of big band jazz and the giddy, rom-com tenderness of acoustic pop. The former embodies the frantic energy of the crazy rich world the story is set in, while the latter serves just the right dose of pathos and kilig.

“I wanted music from the 60s and 70s, when Singapore was newly established, and Chinese songs that aren’t ancient but reflected what was popular at that time,” director Jon M. Chu said.

True to the film’s inclusive spirit, the soundtrack includes Chinese-language versions of big Western hits, in an effort to highlight the blurring of culutral boundaries. (READ: 'Crazy Rich Asians' touted as Hollywood watershed)

“I also liked the idea of American songs covered in Chinese, because a big theme of our movie is that the world we’re living in is getting smaller and all these cultures are overlapping,” Chu said.

“It all comes together in this eclectic tapestry,” Chu said of the soundtrack. “From old to new and remixed, to rap and hip-hop and jazz—and then, on top of that, we have our amazing composer Brian Tyler, who brings in a giant orchestra like an old Hollywood movie.”

“Jon and I really wanted to make a splash with this score in a way that touched upon the great romantic comedies, with the charisma and beauty of Asian culture,” said Tyler.

“I composed in the style of old-school, big-band jazz, classic romantic strings, and traditional music from Asia. The jazz provided a fun, throwback tone and the strings brought the main themes to life in a way that articulates both the love and loss in relationships, familial and romantic. For me, as a composer, scoring a film that touches on all those themes was an incredible experience.”

Chu created the soundtrack along with music supervisor Gabe Hilfer. They kick it off with “Money (That’s What I Want),” the film’s energetic opening and closing track performed by Malaysian singer Cheryl K and featuring one of the film’s stars, Awkwafina for the closing version of the song.

Other songs include “Vote,” by R&B singer Miguel, a Cantopop version of "Material Girl" by Taiwanese-Canadian singer Sally Yeh, as well as several tracks from Chinese jazz singer Jasmine Chen, who also appears in the film along with a 4-piece jazz band, particularly at the Tan Hua blooming party, and the wedding reception with songs like “Give Me a Kiss,” and “Wo Yao Ni De Ai (I Want Your Love – I Want You to be My Baby).”

 

Getting personal

The film’s big production number, the wedding scene, is given a particularly romantic touch as it is set to Kina Grannis’ pared down cover of the Elvis Presley classic, “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” – the same song that played at the wedding of Chu’s own parents.

It’s these personal stories behind the song choices that give the soundtrack more heart. And perhaps the most personal and meaningful song on the lineup is the Mandarin version of no less than one of the most popular anthems of this generation: “Yellow” by British rock band Coldplay.

There were concerns about using the song in the film, considering that “yellow” is also a common derogatory remark used against Asian Americans. But that is precisely the reason why Chu pushed for the song to be included.

For him, it was about reclaiming the term for the very community that it was used against.

Chu penned a moving letter to Coldplay, explaining the song’s importance to him personally as he asked for their permission to use the song.

“I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow. From being called the world in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song,” Chu said in the letter, published on The Hollywood Reporter.

“For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, the love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image,” he said. “It immediately became an anthem for me and my friends and gave us a new sense of pride we never felt before…we could reclaim the color for ourselves an it has stuck we me for the majority of my life."

According to THR, Chu’s request to use the song was approved within 24 hours of the letter being sent. The Mandarin version of the song, performed by Chinese-American singer Katherine Ho, plays in one of the film’s most powerful scenes. Its Mandarin title, “Liu Xing,” apparently means "shooting star."

 

On another personal note, Chu’s daughter was born during the film’s production, raising the stakes even more for him.

“What do I want to pass on to her? How do I want her youth to be different from mine? Presenting a story with a strong female character like Rachel, I was very conscious of what my daughter might go through in her own life, embracing her cultures and finding out who she really is. The film is a love story and a comedy about family, and culture, and conflict, and coming together. It’s also a representation of the next generation’s journey: to make choices about what our parents have given us, what we have learned, and what we want to pass on to our children,” he said.

Overall, Chu said he was guided by a detail shared by Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan about how he wrote the books. (READ: Crazy Rich Asians author Kevin Kwan on Filipinos, film, and his future plans)

“When Kevin set up his computer, he wrote ‘Joy’ on a Post-It note and put it right on the monitor, and every day he wrote his story he looked at that note. He said that whatever happened, that was the most important thing he wanted to communicate,” Chu said.

“Seven years later, we’re making this movie and he told me, ‘Whatever you do, this is the only thing that matters. If you can convey joy, it’ll work.’ That has been our guiding light, our North Star, throughout. And I hope that audiences will feel that joy when they watch the movie,” he added.

And indeed, the film’s colorful, vibrant, multicultural soundtrack is filled with joy – perhaps stemming from well-deserved and hard-earned sense of pride.

Crazy Rich Asians premieres in cinemas on August 22. – Rappler.com

Amanda T. Lago

After avoiding long-term jobs in favor of travelling the world, Amanda finally learned to commit when she joined Rappler in July 2017. As a lifestyle and entertainment reporter, she writes about music, culture, and the occasional showbiz drama. She also hosts Rappler Live Jam, where she sometimes tries her best not to fan-girl on camera.

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