Each scene in Crazy Rich Asians, out November 2, is more lavish than the last. While watching the Singapore-bound airplane suite that features two full-sized beds, or the raging party in the middle of international waters, or the rare jewellery shopping spree that takes place in a high-security vault, you might wonder aloud: "Is this real life?"
Yes, it certainly is. That kind of astounding wealth certainly exists, and it's especially concentrated in Singapore, a country with the top third percentage of ultra high net-worth individuals in the world (second only to Monaco and Geneva, Switzerland).
Kevin Kwan, who wrote the Crazy Rich Asians trilogy, drew on his own family history and Singaporean upbringing to create the novels' characters and vividly drawn landscape. Kwan is the descendant of the co-founder of Singapore's oldest bank, and is of the Crazy Rich Asians world. In an interview with Refinery29, he revealed that before he moved to the United States at age 11, he regularly had dinners with moguls' children and princesses. The Crazy Rich Asians's set designer paid homage to Kwan's ancestors by placing his grandparents' portraits at the top of the central staircase in Carousel Park, an important setting in the movie.
Since Kwan is so intimately acquainted with the super-rich of Singapore, he could render characters and landscapes with accuracy and authority. In fact, I'd venture to say Crazy Rich Asians works so well precisely because Kwan has that insider perspective: Instead of ogling at the wealthy, like we do, he satirises them. Each of the characters is based on a person in Kwan's life. "I know all my characters — or the people who inspired them – very intimately," Kwan Refinery29. "Of course I change enough details so no one is recognisable. But their essential characteristics are there."
To think — there's an actual Astrid Leung, Nick Young's kind and ridiculously stylish cousin played by Gemma Chan in the movie, walking around out there. But does the real Astrid Leung know there's a fictional Astrid Leung getting the big-screen treatment? Not necessarily. When asked whether the inspirations were aware of their character counterparts, Kwan told Refinery29, "In most instances they are not. No one’s come up to me and said, ‘I know this character is based on me."
Perhaps the vast distance between who we are and who we perceive we are is to blame. "People have a very different lens of who they think they are versus how people view them," Kwan elaborated. "Someone who I think is an absolute angel might not see herself as an angel, an amazing person."
In addition to basing his characters off of real people, Kwan also infused the books' settings with the places he'd been, the sights he'd seen. As a kid, Kwan once visited a friend's particularly lavish mansion. "It was an enormous estate that had a sunken pond in the middle of the living room filled with baby sharks," Kwan recalled to Star2. Years later, that shocking display of wealth would influence his descriptions of Peik Goh Lin's (Awkwafina) ostentatious house in Crazy Rich Asians. For your information: At-home shark tanks are apparently a fairly common practice among the uber-rich.
Since the world of Crazy Rich Asians is very much real, you can get a glimpse if you know where to look. First stop? Check out the @richkidsofsingapore Instagram page, which aggregates posts from some of Singapore's rich influencers. In each image, you'll see an extravagance on par with the books' and movie's. There's Elly Lam, the daughter of a mogul and an actress, on vacation; there's a private jet interior; there's a convertible filled with Hermes bags. You won't be disappointed.
That said, knowing Nick Young's extremely private family, they'd never post evidence of their lifestyle on Instagram. Some things will have to remain a mystery.