Wu’s fight for ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ part of a bigger crusade

The Free Press WV

Constance Wu had resigned herself to the fact that “Crazy Rich Asians” was not going to work out for her. She was under contract for her sitcom “Fresh Off the Boat”, both were filming in the fall, and that was that. “Crazy Rich Asians” would be the first studio-made Asian-American movie in 25 years, and Wu, who has established herself as a crusader for Asian-American representation in Hollywood, would have to sit this historic moment out.

But then, feeling “kind of dramatic,” and thinking about the significance of the project to her and untold number of Asian-Americans who make it a point to tell her their stories because of her tweets and “Fresh Off the Boat,” Wu decided to give it one last shot and composed an email to director “Crazy Rich Asians” director Jon M. Chu.

“I said, I know the dates don’t work out and whoever you cast, I will be the first in line and I will be their No. 1 fan and supporter, but I did want to let you know that I would put 110 percent of my heart into this project and I know what to do with it and how to carry a movie and if you can just wait for me, I don’t think you’ll regret it,” Wu, 36, said. “I did NOT think this email would work. I did it more for me so that I felt that I had told my truth. But then he read it and said, “You guys, we’ve got to push the production.”

Sitting in a restaurant at the Beverly Wilshire, a hotel famous for co-starring in another “Cinderella” story, “Pretty Woman,” and sipping on a “cocktail” of grapefruit juice and sparkling water, Wu is describing how “Crazy Rich Asians,” out nationwide Wednesday is also a kind of “Cinderella” story. Based the first book in author Kevin Kwan’s popular trilogy, Wu’s character Rachel Chu is a middle-class economics professor from the U.S. who finds herself navigating the upper echelons of Singapore’s wealthy classes when her boyfriend Nick Young takes her home for a wedding and to meet his disapproving family and all the jealous women also vying for the attention of the “prince.”

“It’s a fairy tale, it really is,” Wu said. “And there are a lot of different shoes in the movie!”

A native of Richmond, Virginia, and a classically-trained theater actress with a passion for musicals, Wu has been working toward a moment like this her whole life, and taking it very seriously. During the shoot, she wouldn’t go out with her co-stars for karaoke nights or have a drink after a long day of work. She wanted to be clear of mind and she’d already promised her director that she was going to give it her all.

She knew how unlikely it was that she’d ever get an opportunity as an Asian-American woman to lead a studio movie.

“Even a terrific actress like Sandra Oh was always No. 2 or No. 3 in the movie, she was never No. 1 unless it was an independent movie,” said Wu, who is not shy about saying that she only wants to go out for roles where she is the No. 1 star. It’s a drive that has made some uncomfortable.

“People are like, ’Who do you think you are? And it’s like, I guess I think I’m a talented actor and I guess I’m not a person who is going to let you make me feel small anymore,” she said.

But Wu isn’t interested in making people feel comfortable at the expense of her truth, which is why at least part of her time is spent amplifying underrepresented voices on twitter, even knowing that it’s affected her employment opportunities.

Wu once heard from a friend that her liberal boyfriend said he didn’t like Wu’s politics.

“I’m like, ‘Does he not like my politics or does he not like that I have politics?’ And she asked him and he was like, “Oh I guess it’s that,’” Wu said.

Fame, she said, is silly in that regard. She thinks it’s “dumb” that she has a bigger voice than other people, like journalists or academics who are more studied in discourse on race and intersectionality. But, she also realized that while she has this platform, she can at least do some good with it.

Henry Golding, who plays Nick, is in awe of Wu’s fortitude.

“She’s such a role model for so many people. She has a backbone, which a lot of people don’t. She’s not afraid of saying what’s on her mind and really driving home what she thinks should be done, or what’s not happening in the industry that should be happening,” said Golding. “She’s going to go down as a real fighter and someone who can act the socks off anything. She is Rachel Chu.”

As for what’s next, Wu said she thinks she’s going to have a lot of choices in the coming years.

“I’m very privileged and lucky and I’m at a point where I can sort of get to decide where I want to go with my career,” Wu said.

And first up on her wish-list? A musical.

Movie Review: ‘Slender Man’

The reviews are in for Slender Man, the faceless character’s jump from the Internet to the big screen thanks to Sony Pictures and director Sylvain White, and they’re nearly universally awful. Four zingers summing up critics’ 11% rating on Rotten Tomatoes:

  • “Perhaps that’s one way to kill off Slender Man: make his story so dull that no one cares,“ writes Adam Graham at Detroit News.
  • Bill Goodykoontz at the Arizona Republic notes “Slender Man bravely goes against the well-established notion that scary movies should be scary.“
  • “Slender Man is a fundamentally derivative and empty-headed horror film,“ is how Owen Gleiberman puts it at Variety.
  • Glenn Kenny at the New York Times calls it “the most perfunctory horror picture I’ve seen in some time. It’s not even worth making a ‘thin gruel’ joke about.“

Movie Review: ‘The Meg’

We’re going to need a bigger boat for all these shark movies.

On the tail of “The Shallows,“ ‘'47 Meters Down,“ ‘'Dark Tide” and, of course, the seminal “Sharknado,“ comes “The Meg,“ the latest in a growing school of shark movies, all of which, to varying degrees, use our fond memories of “Jaws” as bait to reel us back in the water again. The hook on this one? Bigger shark.

To my disappointment, the title of “The Meg” does not refer to Meg Ryan (though it’s nice to imagine an action movie revolving around Jason Statham making precarious escapes from the “When Harry Met Sally…“ star). No, the titular Meg of Jon Turteltaub’s thriller is the Megalodon, which sounds like either a “Transformers” character or a heavy metal band.

It is, in fact, a prehistoric underwater dinosaur, a kind of supersized shark that went extinct more than 2 million years ago. According to scientists, they could grow up to 60 feet long. According to Hollywood producers, it’s more like 75 feet or more. In “The Meg,“ a Megalodon’s dorsal fin sticking out from the water looks from afar like a catamaran.

Naturally, history could not keep such a predator so perfect for today’s movies all to itself, especially when one could be strategically found somewhere in the Pacific, conveniently close to the world’s second largest movie market, China. Based on Steve Alten’s “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror,“ ‘'The Meg” has been in development for some two decades, only to finally emerge as American-Chinese hybrid production.

A state-of-the-art underwater research facility, bankrolled by a cocky young billionaire (Rainn Wilson), uncovers a deeper realm of the Mariana Trench that has for centuries been separated from the rest of the ocean by a cloudy, cold membrane. Soon after a research expedition pushes through the layer in a submersible, they are attacked by an unseen creature, cutting them off from the base above.

For the rescue mission, 11,000 meters down, the team reluctantly turns to the only expert at such a deep dive: Jonas Taylor (Statham). The chief researcher, Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), elects to quickly bring Taylor out of retirement (he’s living above a bar in Thailand) against the warnings of Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), who believes Taylor reckless for an earlier deep-water nuclear submarine rescue where as many died as lived.

Statham, the sleek, gravelly voiced action star, is lured back underwater because one of the three people trapped — Lori (Jessica McNamee) — happens to be his ex-wife. With remarkably little trouble, he goes from boozing in Thailand to easily piloting a vessel straight down to the seafloor. Statham, sometimes a one-man show, here has a fairly large ensemble around him, one assembled to appeal to moviegoers both East and West. Chinese actress Li Bingbing stars as the divorced single-mother daughter of Dr. Zhang, and Taylor’s love interest. Also in the mix as crew members are Ruby Rose (“Orange is the New Black”) and Page Kennedy.

But the main draw in “The Meg” is obviously the giant shark which, after years stuck at the bottom of the sea, is awfully hungry. There are the expected close scrapes, surprisingly good production design, PG-13 rated chompings and fluctuating levels of even giant-shark-movie plausibility. What is it about sharks that inspires such absurdity in plots? Much of “The Meg” aims for a familiar popcorn mix of frights and ridiculousness that may well do the trick for cheap August thrills, or those who pine for, say, “Deep Blue Sea.“

“The Meg” is best when it acknowledges its derivativeness, just one more silly shark movie in an ocean full of them. Its finest moment is when Statham, having willingly jumped into the water near the Megalodon, channels Dory and murmurs to himself: “Just keep swimming.“

“The Meg,“ a Warner Bros. release, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for action/peril, bloody images and some language. Running time: 113 minutes. Two stars out of four.

Good News for Anthony Bourdain Fans

The Free Press WV

A final season of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown is set to air this fall. CNN says it will air seven episodes in the 12th season of the series, reports the Los Angeles Times. A single episode completed before Bourdain’s June 8 suicide in France finds him exploring Kenya alongside comedian W. Kamau Bell. Four other episodes will show footage of Bourdain’s trips to Manhattan, Texas, Spain, and Indonesia, with his usual narration “replaced by other voices of people who are in the episodes,“ a CNN rep explains. They’re to be followed by an episode offering a behind-the-scenes look at filming, and another paying tribute to Bourdain. Per Eater, the exact premiere date is not yet known.

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