From The Joy Luck Club to Crazy Rich Asians

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Crazy Rich Asians had a crazy good opening weekend, making back its $30 million budget and then some. A sequel based on the second book in the trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend, is already in the works.

The film has been heralded as the first major American studio film with an all-Asian cast in 25 years. But let’s not forget about the groundbreaking success of The Joy Luck Club, nor the overlooked Better Luck Tomorrow.

Crazy Rich Asians Premiere
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Crazy Rich Asians

For decades, it was rare in American cinema to find an Asian movie star outside of martial arts films. That’s slowly changing, and Crazy Rich Asians should do a lot to catapult its charming cast into the stratosphere.

Romantic leads Constance Wu (who stars on the retro sitcom Fresh Off the Boat) and Henry Golding already have several follow-up projects lined up. Rapper and actress Awkwafina, who plays the quirky best friend and steals every scene, is also in high demand right now.

The Joy Luck Club

In 1993, another big-screen adaptation of a bestseller about Asian characters hit the screen. The Joy Luck Club, based on Amy Tan’s novel, followed the stories of 4 Chinese immigrants and their Chinese-American daughters. Ming-Na Wen (pictured above with Crazy Rich Asians star Michelle Yeoh) was featured along with Rosalind Chao, Lauren Tom, France Nguyen, and Lisa Lu.

Thanks in part to the success of Crazy Rich Asians, people are feeling nostalgic about the 25-year-old film. The cast and director, Wayne Wang, will reunite for an anniversary screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. And both a movie sequel and a TV series are in the works, according to producer Ronald Bass.

“Both the series or sequel, if they happen, will be the same cast 25 years later,” Bass said. “In other words, the mothers are now grandmothers. The daughters are now mothers and they each have a millennial daughter of their own. So, now it would be a three generation – what’s that like in mother-daughter relations? Today’s world versus first, second generations and immigrants.”

Better Luck Tomorrow

The tale of this 2002 crime drama is almost as fascinating as the film itself. Directed by Justin Lin—who would go on to helm blockbusters in both the Fast & Furious and Star Trek universes—it focused on a group of Asian-American straight-A students who fall into a world of petty crime and eventually murder.

The problem was that no studio wanted to back a movie with all Asian leads. After a chance meeting at a convention, Lin called up MC Hammer to ask for help. He immediately wired the money, and Lin was able to make his film. It was sold to MTV studios and made $3.8 million on a $250,000 budget, yet it’s all but forgotten now.

Aside from John Cho, who went on to play Sulu in the new Star Trek films, the cast produced no breakout stars. It must be frustrating for everyone involved to be little more than a footnote in the history of Asian-American cinema. Better luck tomorrow, right?