6 Asian books that can be the next ‘Crazy Rich Asians’

  • Books
  • Monday, 03 Sep 2018

Crazy Rich Asians has certainly translated into a Crazy Rich Box Office. The Jon M. Chu directed movie, based on the bestselling 2013 novel by Asian-American author Kevin Kwan, has struck gold at the box office, earning over US$86mil (RM353mil) in less than two weeks since it’s release (Read our review here)

This is an Asian story, brought to life by an Asian-American director, featuring an all-Asian cast (plus a Malaysian screenwriter, Adele Lim, who was a Star2 columnist, #ReflectedGlory), all of which is an extreme rarity in Hollywood, as everyone has been saying.

After its boffo success, it’s certain that the world is going to look to other Asian stories to adapt into blockbusters. Might we one day see star-studded OTT Hollywood adaptations of stuff like 16th century Chinese classic Journey To The West, fourth century Indian saga The Mahabharata, or 11th century Japanese novel The Tale Of Genji on the world’s silver screens?

We’ll wait for those with crossed fingers. In the meantime, however, there are lots of contemporary Asian stories that would be amazing to see on the big screen. Here are six we think would translate particularly well. Agree? Disagree? Send us your suggestions at star2@thestar.com.

Asian Novels That Would Make Great Hollywood Movies

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (2013)

Set in 1890s Malaya, this novel has plenty of dramatic ideas that are just begging to be adapted into something for the big screen.

One imagines that scenes of a fiery, or deliciously creepy, afterlife could be woven into the present day narrative of the unassuming Li Lan, who has been asked to marry a dead man. This traditional ghost marriage serves to placate a restless spirit, and boy, you can say restless again – a young man who died under mysterious circumstances must surely have unfinished business in this world.

Presentation-wise, Chinese folklore, paper funeral offerings, ghost cities, vengeful spirits and the supernatural in general can be woven into scenes that can be as spine-chilling or as exotic as you wish, depending on the flavour of the day. And there’s also the rich Lim family mansion, described as opulent in the book, as well as a handsome (living) heir who catches Li Lan’s attention.

Interestingly, the author suggested in a blog post that despite her being “a bit out of date” in terms of the latest Asian heartthrobs (and this was way back in 2013), a young Gong Li or Maggie Cheung would be great as Li Lan. As for the two male leads, the dead son and living heir, she opted for a younger Tony Leung and “definitely, absolutely, no-question-about-it” Takeshi Kaneshiro.

Yangsze Choo was born in Perak and studied in Harvard in the United States, where she has settled down with an Asian-American husband, with whom she has two children. Before publishing her debut novel, she “owned a briefcase” and worked as a management consultant. The Ghost Bride was listed as a “Book of the Week” by influential TV mogul Oprah Winfrey upon its publication in 2013.

Asian Novels That Would Make Great Hollywood Movies

The Teardrop Story Woman by Catherine Lim (1998)

The premise of Catherine Lim’s book reads like a fairytale, as it comes with the obligatory beautiful maiden and the handsome guy, in this case the irresistible Mei Kwei and charismatic French priest Father Martin.

Set in the turbulent 1950s of Malaya, this is the tale of a girl from a poor family who is doubly cursed: Not only is she female, much to the disgust of her father who tries to get her adopted by another family, but she has a mole in the corner of her eye, which is believed to be a sign of bad luck.

Superstition, tradition, forbidden love and a fear of the unseen come together in this story that is written with long, detailed descriptions – plenty of fodder for a screenwriter who wants to adapt it for film.

A film adaptation would need many male actors, though, since this is a protagonist who has many men at her beck and call, including an rich old man who pays off her father’s opium debts in exchange for her hand and an older brother whose affection for her has disturbingly sexual overtones.

Kedah-born Catherine Lim Poh Imm has been living in Singapore since 1967 and is often called the “doyenne of Singapore stories”, having written more than nine collections of short stories, five novels and a poetry book. She began as a teacher, then worked with Singapore’s Education Ministry and the Regional Language Centre before becoming a full-time writer in 1992. She has won national and regional book prizes for her literary contributions. Her works are studied in local and foreign schools and universities, and have been published in various languages in several countries.

Asian Novels That Would Make Great Hollywood Movies

The Grace Of Kings (The Dandelion Dynasty #1) by Ken Liu (2015)

Hollywood has been dominating the world with its Western fantasies for so long, it’s almost as if myths and legends from this side of the world don’t exist. Don’t get us wrong. We love J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-earth saga and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. But it’s about time something that doesn’t look like Europe set in a fantasy world makes it to the silver screen.

And Ken Liu’s The Grace Of Kings, the first in his Dandelion Dynasty series could be it. This China-born American silkpunk writer has deftly managed to conjure a made-up world so real, it doesn’t seem transposed at all.

The Grace Of Kings, a Nebula Awards finalist, has it all: an evil king, a suffering populace, angry gods, a rising rebellion, betrayal ... you name it.

The story follows Kuni Garu, an all-rounder rascal, and Mata Zyndu, a man whose family has been savaged by the evil and now dying Emperor Mapidere. Their paths cross and with a rebellion rising in the kingdom, the men join forces to break the Emperor’s rule.

Unfortunately, their camaraderie turns into an rivalry when they find themselves as leaders of two factions with different ideals. Step aside Lannisters and Starks, here comes a tale of betrayal and rivalry unlike any other. And with the second novel, The Wall Of Storms, already out, we are looking at a potential franchise here.

Our pick for the leads? From TV, we choose The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun and Altered Carbon’s Will Yun Lee.

Born in Lanzhou, China, Liu moved to the United States when he was 11. Besides writing, Liu is also a litigation consultant in technology cases. He snagged his first writing award in 2011 for his short story ‘The Paper Menagerie’, winning the Nebula Award for Best Short Story. He won the Hugo Award for Best Short Story in 2012 for the same work.

Asian Novels That Would Make Great Hollywood Movies

The Windfall by Diksha Basu (2017)

Funny, reflective, real and ... did we say funny? This debut novel by Indian writer Diksha Basu has all the makings of a great indie film, the sort that’ll make it big at international film festivals. It has endearingly hilarious characters, true-to-life themes, and a story revolving around a family. Need we say more?

OK, here’s more: As the story goes, Mr and Mrs Jha did not have it easy bringing up their son amidst a poverty-stricken neighbourhood. The past 30 years has been about cramped spaces, gossipy neighbours, and stolen items. Once their son was accepted into an American business school, the Jhas thought they could finally slow down. They thought wrong. Mr Jha, whom we think should be played by Anil Kapoor, gets a large windfall and now suddenly a wealthy man, he decides to uproot his family from the slums to the uber-rich side of town. This is where the comedy begins as Mr Jha desperately tries to fit in with his affluent neighbours.

This begins to have a toll on his marriage and his son and he soon realises that having all the money in the world doesn’t necessarily make life any easier. As People magazine put it, “What Kevin Kwan did for rich people problems, Diksha Basu does for trying-to-be-rich-people problems”.

This is Diskha Basu’s second novel; her first, Opening Night, was released in 2012 but didn’t create as much of a buzz as The Windfall. Originally from New Delhi, the mother of one holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University in the United States and now divides her time between New York City and Mumbai.

Asian Novels That Would Make Great Hollywood Movies

Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw (2013)

As the success of Crazy Rich Asians shows, the pursuit of wealth and happiness is a theme that certainly resonates with audiences worldwide. This novel by Malaysia-born author Aw, therefore, seems like a logical follow-up to that movie.

Four Malaysians are looking for success in glitzy Shanghai, a city of unlimited potential. Phoebe is a factory girl who comes to Shanghai for a job that doesn’t exist. Gary is a rising pop star whose life is going out of control. Justin is the troubled scion of a well-to-do family, while Yinghui is an artistic soul who’s reinvented herself as a savvy businesswoman.

As their lives intersect and intertwine, the mysterious titular billionaire Walter Chao appears and involves himself in all their lives.

The larger than life characters and relatable themes should strike a chord with most viewers, and the backdrop of sensational Shanghai should allow for some lavish, unforgettable scenes.

And casting? How about Chinese actors Huang Xiao Ming as Gary, Zhao Liying as Phoebe, and perhaps Zhao Wei as Yinghui? Justin could be played by a fresh face, to add to the story’s theme of trying to make it big.

Tash Aw was born in Taipei to Malaysian parents, and grew up in Kuala Lumpur before moving to Britain to study law; after four years as a lawyer, he studied creative writing and is now a full time writer based mostly in London. He is the author of several critically acclaimed novels, including 2005’s The Harmony Silk Factory (which won the Whitbread First Novel Award and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Map Of The Invisible World (2009), Five Star Billionaire (2013, also a Booker longlist nominee) and the nonfiction The Face: Strangers On A Pier (2016).

Asian Novels That Would Make Great Hollywood Movies

The Dim Sum Of All Things by Kim Wong Keltner (2004)

Meet Lindsey Owyang. She’s a third-generation 20something in San Francisco, who works as a receptionist for Vegan Warrior magazine. She’s in love with her white editor, but dating is tough when you live with the most traditional of Chinese grandmothers, one who’s always trying to set you up with the children of her mahjong partners.

Lindsey’s life takes a flip, however, when she has to accompany her grandmother to China to meet long lost relatives.

Much of the book pertains to Lindsey learning to appreciate her heritage, which would be a great opportunity to showcase various aspects of Asian culture on the big screen. Hollywood loves fish out of water stories, and when these are combined with plotlines about self-discovery and seeking identity, the result most times is memorable, moving scenes.

The book also sparkles with wit, which should result in much hilarity.

Maybe a slightly older Lana Condor (she of TV’s All The Boys I’ve Loved Before) can play Lindsey. Or may we suggest Awkwafina (the breakout star of Crazy Rich Asians), because the thought of her getting to terms with old-school China is hilarious!

A native of San Francisco, Kim Wong Keltner is the author of several books, including the nonfiction work Tiger Babies Strike Back, and novels I Want Candy and Buddha Baby. Her debut novel, The Dim Sum Of All Things, reached #4 on the San Francisco Chronicle’s Paperback Bestseller List.

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