Live sharks in living rooms, a private jet with a yoga studio — what can be more over-the-top than the lives of the über-rich Kevin Kwan put on the page in Crazy Rich Asians? His upcoming sequel, China Rich Girlfriend — the title of which is being revealed on EW exclusively — promises more.
“I’ve definitely not used up the crazy,” Kwan says. “I have so many more stories. But this is, once again, going to be based on a lot of what I’ve seen and witnessed.” China Rich Girlfriend will likely be one of next year’s popular beach reads upon its release on June 16, 2015.
Kwan also updated us on the movie adaptation of Crazy Rich Asians. It’s being written by playwright Keith Bunin, who also scripted Daniel Radcliffe-starrer Horns, adapted from the book by Joe Hill. Casting news is being held tightly under wraps, but Kwan said that he’s heavily involved in the production process and that, at this point, he and other producers are in talks with studios to collaborate with.
Check out a condensed version of our interview below:
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What’s been going on with the movie?
KEVIN KWAN: The movie is progressing really, really nicely. They are working on the script right now, and were hoping for that to be done in the next couple of months. My producers just returned from a whirlwind tour of Asia, where they began location scouting and meeting with film studios, and things like that. They all hope to begin shooting by the end of the year.
How involved are you with the movie’s production?
I am an executive producer, and I’m pretty intrinsically involved. I chose this team to work with because I really wanted to be involved with the creation of the movie, so I helped to select the screenwriter. The screenwriter for the movie is Keith Bunin, I don’t know if you know him. He’s an amazing, acclaimed playwright and one of the hottest screenwriters in Hollywood. And he’s really getting in there and transforming the book into a screenplay.
What can you tell me about the book sequel you’re working on?
I’m finally allowed to reveal the title, for starters. It’s called China Rich Girlfriend. It’s a sequel, and it sort of continues a lot of the storylines of what happened with book one, where many of those characters in the first book will be returning, but there will also be a lot of new characters, and new locations, and plot twists, and surprises. The basis of the book is about Rachel Chu, who was the main character of Crazy Rich Asians #1, and this is now her story of going to China in search of her true father. Going there, being in Shanghai, she is able to make some astonishing discoveries about mainland China and what’s happening there in this whole other class of new Chinese money. So it’s going to be a very eye-opening experience.
Does it happen right after the events of Crazy Rich Asians, or is there a time lapse?
There is a time lapse, yeah. There’s a bit of a time lapse.
How much time has passed?
It starts to take place in 2013. So about two, two-and-a-half years have passed.
So Rachel is pretty situated with her new life.
Yeah. Not to give too much away, but yeah. She’s in a new situation in her life, as are many of the other characters. One of the readers’ favorite characters, Astrid Leong, will be back, and you’ll see how much her life has changed in the past two-and-a-half years. But the location shifts somewhat now. It’s less about Singapore and more about mainland China and Shanghai, and this whole new world of characters and people, and how the original characters come into contact with them, and what happens as a result.
You’ve said in previous interviews that a lot of the details in Crazy Rich Asians come from what you’ve seen in real life. So with a sequel on the way, are you going to create new events based on what else you’ve seen, or have you already used up the craziest events, so to speak, in the first book?
I’ve definitely not used up the crazy. My first book — I ruefully wrote a 700-page novel, and my editors really made me cut it down. I cut down a lot of characters, cut down a lot of storylines, because they were convinced that as a debut novelist, for your first book, people are maybe not going to want to read a 700-page tome. So I have so many more stories. But this is, once again, going to be based on a lot of what I’ve seen and witnessed. And I’ve been spending a lot of time in Asia over the past year-and-a-half. I’m sort of fascinated in what’s happening over there.
Have you been spending most of your time in mainland China? Were you researching?
Yeah, absolutely. Once again, the reality of what’s happening in China has to be really seen to be believed, and I hope I can do justice to that.
Are there any newer trends that have developed among the Chinese rich that weren’t around in the previous book that you’ll be targeting this time?
Absolutely. I think that the first book kind of looked at the clash between new money and old money, and I think in the past two decades in mainland China, there’s emerged this new moneyed class. They have sort of developed the culture, and they’ve matured in a very, vary fast way. What I’ve been seeing in my travels — I was just in Shanghai last month — is there’s a whole new class that’s much less showier than the mainland Chinese of ten year ago, and they’re much more interested in lifestyle now, and less interested in big name brands and flashy cars.
And these are among the new rich?
Yeah. There really only is new rich in China, because the open market policy only really began fifteen, twenty years ago. The fortunes are all still relatively new compared to the rest of Asia. But they’ve also matured much more quickly. They’ve gone out of their nouveau riche phase, if you call it that. But China is still the #1 consumer in the world of luxury right now. Luxury cars, and luxury fashion, and things like that. But you’re also seeing this incredible sophistication develop, and people who are really interested in lifestyle pursuits that go beyond just things that they can flash. So art collectors, for example. A lot of people are developing astute art collections, and they’re taking interest in architecture, and creating beautiful buildings, and creating beautiful houses, and things like that, cuisine. You’re seeing all this develop at warp speed. Things that took the western culture decades, or even centuries to refine, they’re doing in a much more speedy fashion.
What have you been reading lately?
I have not had any time to read whatsoever. I’ve been reading a a lot of nonfiction lately, a lot of economic books about China and southeast China that I wouldn’t recommend as easy reading. I’ve just been really writing full time and immersing. But I’ve been reading Ruth Ozeki’s new book, A Tale for the Time Being. So in the rare times where I can sit down and read a book, I started her book.
The economic books about China — were those research for your sequel?
Yes, a lot of dry stuff, just sort of explaining what’s been happening there economically and why they’ve been able to develop this moneyed class so quickly. Ten years ago, there was not a single billionaire in China, and now I think, at last count, 144 billion. And they’re saying by 2015, they will overtake the U.S. as the country with the most billionaires in the world … the fact that they actually create all this wealth in just such a relatively short time, in a country with this vast a population, it’s kind of astounding.
Yeah, particularly when you compare it to India, for instance.
Exactly, yeah. And it was that that compelled me to continue the story, keep shifting locations. I always had the intention of writing a series of books that were pan-Asian, that dealt with different parts of Asia, and I’m continuing that with book two.
Do you foresee this as a series that would go further, hopping from country to country?
I had really only planned three books originally. The characters are part of a main story that I always conceived of as a trilogy. Three cousins, three families, three generations, and thus three books. It’s interesting, but when you really begin to write, I know it sounds cliché, but the characters really begin to take you in different places that you never imagined. And also as I’ve been travelling, as I’ve been meeting people and having my own adventures, that’s been influencing the story, and things have just been blossoming in unexpected ways. So I don’t want to limit myself in saying that I’m only going to write three books in three general locations, but at this point I don’t want to be the writer that only writes about Asia, or that only writes about ultra-high-net-worth people. That’s not what I’m about completely.