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Warning: This post contains big spoilers for the book and film versions of Crazy Rich Asians.
There are plenty of reasons to cheer for the new romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, which opened in theaters on Aug. 15. For starters, the Jon M. Chu-directed adaptation of Kevin Kwan’s blockbuster novel is the first major Hollywood feature since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club to feature an ensemble almost exclusively of Asian heritage — a significant, and overdue, step forward for representation. It’s also a launching pad for fresh faces like Constance Wu and Henry Golding, who play the movie’s central lovers Rachel Chu and Nick Young, and marks Awkwafina’s second scene-stealing role this summer after Ocean’s 8. And thanks to enthusiastic reviews from critics and the ecstatic reactions of early-screening audiences, the movie has already made crazy amounts of money at the box office, which means that the first of Kwan’s two sequel novels may be coming to theaters as early as next August.
Fans of the book will also have a very specific reason to cheer for a short, but important sequence that comes midway through the closing credits of Crazy Rich Asians. Just as Nick Fury’s surprise appearance at the end of the original Iron Man made Marvel fans cheer and left general audiences a little baffled, this seemingly simple scene requires some familiarity with the source material. (Watch our video interview with Chu about that midcredits scene above.)
First, some context: Before the closing credits roll, Rachel and Nick have just overcome the numerous hurdles placed in their way by his snooty Singapore-based friends and family en route to him popping the question and her saying a thousand times yes. Rather than fly back to New York right away, they celebrate their engagement with one last shindig.
It may be a happily-ever-after ending for them, but not everyone in their orbit is so well-off… at least emotionally, anyway. Take Nick’s cousin, Astrid (Gemma Chan), an ultraglam fashion expert whose seemingly perfect marriage to Michael (Pierre Png) falls apart during the course of the movie — the result of his deep-seated insecurity at having married into such a prominent family. Still bruised over that breakup, Astrid noticeably keeps to herself at the party. In that midcredits scene, though, she catches the eye of another man, played by former Glee star Harry Shum Jr., who is watching her intently. The two exchange furtive glances followed by knowing nods, and then the credits continue. At the screening Yahoo Entertainment attended, that oh-so-brief encounter inspired excited exclamations and applause, hinting to viewers who didn’t read the book that there’s much more to this moment than meets the eye.
So who is this new man in Astrid’s life? Well, to begin with, he’s not exactly new. Shum plays Charlie Wu, Astrid’s former fiancé and the love of her life before Michael came along — a key bit of backstory from the book that’s been left out of the film. In Kwan’s novel, Charlie and Astrid’s youthful romance shaped the people they would become, and even though the end of their engagement seemed apocalyptic in the moment — for both them and their families — a future friendship wasn’t out of the question. While Astrid eventually tied the knot with Michael and had a son, Cassian, Charlie moved to Hong Kong, married a woman named Isabel, and became the “Asian Steve Jobs.”
Their paths cross again when Astrid decides to follow her husband to Hong Kong, where he apparently has a mistress and maybe even a child. Charlie immediately offers his aid in the form of transport to the island, as well as the use of his private investigators. Through their combined efforts, Astrid comes to learn that Michael hasn’t been cheating on her; it was all a ruse to make him the villain in their divorce, thus saving her from losing face in the eyes of her parents and all of Singapore high society. (In the film version, Michael really does have a mistress, and blames it on their failing marriage.)
Charlie — who still carries a serious torch for Astrid — studiously avoids professing his love, but he does give her a shoulder to cry on and some advice: Delay any divorce plans for at least a year. Why? “I have a feeling Michael could have a change of heart,” he explains to his ex. Behind her back, though, he moves some of his money around in order to invest in Michael’s fledgling company, setting him on the path to prosperity that could aid in his rival’s change of heart. “If he didn’t have a chance of getting Astrid back, he at least wanted to try and help her,” Kwan writes.
The Charlie and Astrid saga continues in the next two books in Kwan’s trilogy, China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems. Although Michael and Astrid do reconcile in the sequel, his insecurities get the better of him again and he turns abusive, leading Astrid to walk out the door and into Charlie’s arms. By the time the third novel picks up two years later, the two are engaged once again, although their respective exes both try to sabotage their renewed romance and come very close to succeeding.
Considering the substantive page-to-screen alterations made to the movie version of Crazy Rich Asians, it’s unlikely that Charlie and Astrid’s onscreen storyline will follow the arc of the novels. Not for nothing, but their exact relationship status is left vague in the film, allowing a potential sequel to present them as new lovers rather than a couple with a long and tortured history. (Here’s hoping they also take the opportunity to ditch the “Michael becomes abusive” storyline, which would be a jarring contrast with the first film’s overall frothy tone.)
At a recent press conference, Crazy Rich Asians producer Nina Jacobson seemed to suggest they might be going that route, saying: “We had originally shot more of [Astrid and Charlie] together, but what we found when we first started to show the movie to audiences was that … the dissolution of her marriage and then the introduction of this wonderful new guy actually both got short shrift when you rushed it.” Chu echoed her comments in our video interview: “If we ever get that opportunity [for a sequel], I think we’re going to look how it all structures out and then decide what their relationship is that it needs to be for our movies.”
Regardless of what happens next, saving Charlie’s appearance for the midcredits scene allows audiences to leave the theater knowing there’s happiness in Astrid’s future. And that’s a crazy good reason to cheer.
Crazy Rich Asians is playing in theaters now.
Watch: Director Jon M. Chu explains why Hollywood didn’t want Crazy Rich Asians to be called Crazy Rich Asians and other things you didn’t know:
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Watch the Crazy Rich Asians trailer: