When Tan Kheng Hua was offered the role of Kerry Chu in “Crazy Rich Asians,” she didn’t hesitate to accept it.
Though the Singaporean actress has certainly made a name for herself on big screens in southeastern Asia, the opportunity to act in a major U.S. film — a historic film at that — was a unparalleled opportunity.
“Did we honestly have to wait so long for an all-Asian Hollywood film to come out?” Tan asks me during our candid interview.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is the first Hollywood film to feature a predominately Asian cast in more than 20 years.
Based on the beloved book, “Crazy Rich Asians” follows Rachel Chu and Nick Young through a meet-the-parents summer in Singapore. Unbeknownst to Rachel, though, the parents she’s meeting are excessively wealthy and raised her boyfriend in a literal castle. Helping her navigate this unexpected terrain is her fierce and firm mom, Kerry.
Kerry Chu is the opposite of the overbearing, only-grades-matter Asian tropes usually shown in U.S. film and television.
Kerry offers a refreshing and not-typically-seen representation of balanced parenting, something that reminded Tan of raising her own children.
“My relationship with my daughter is very similar to the one that Carrie has with Rachel in that verbal communication is a tool,” she explains. “We talk to each other, we verbalize feelings, we express our wants and needs of each other. And this verbal communication is something that I consider is actually very Western. And my own parents who are very [stereotypically] Asian brought me up in a completely different way and in a very Asian way.”
Tan further explains her definition of parenting “the Asian Way,” saying:
“As a child I was expected to do a lot of housework and expected to come home every day at dinner time and have a meal and to sit down at the table with my entire family. Let me just tell you, I love my parents to death. They are the best parents in the world. But, times have changed … and contemporary Western culture has changed many of the traditional Asian ways of a leading life.”
As a former marketing professional, Tan’s dedication to excellence and bucking the status quo has been a decades-long endeavor.
“I went to Indiana University at Bloomington and I got myself a Bachelor of Science, but in my heart, I’d always loved the arts,” she says. “I loved my job, don’t get me wrong. I was also good at it. But I thought to myself, ‘I have devoted most of the hours of my day to this corporate job and devoted also a large portion of my time to my passion — which was acting — and I’ve got enough money saved up. Why don’t I try to just see what it feels like to wake up in the morning and to be a indulging this passion for acting for the whole day?'”
But now, she’s stepped into another world in “Crazy Rich Asians.”
Tan joins a cast that hails from Malaysia, Taiwan, and Singapore, nodding to the diversity inherent of Asian identities.
As a supporting actress in the highly anticipated film, Tan has been surrounded by a work energy that she hasn’t seen in her career, largely because the people that play the characters actually reflect the characters in the book.
“What matters is that a group of people are coming together,” Tan says. “A group of people who have immense talent, at all levels, from all over the world coming together to tell this story that was so beautifully put together and a story about culture that I am a part of, that I feel has never been told.”
And as for the future? Tan dreams of one where it doesn’t take nearly 30 years for another all-Asian film to be greenlit by Hollywood.
“I would like audiences to look at ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ and to enjoy the movie and to see how good it is,” she says, “and hopefully one day just be able to just look at pieces of work and just say, ‘Oh wow, it was good. It’s so well-made. It’s so funny.’ And [I want people to] not just keep dividing the world into races and faiths. I would also like everybody to see talent — and not just for my own country — but from around the world.”
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