Crazy Rich Asians Director Jon Chu Wrote a Beautiful Letter to Coldplay Asking to use “Yellow”
Crazy Rich Asians made history this past weekend. As we wrote yesterday, the film had the biggest box office opening for a PG-13 romantic comedy since Think Like a Man. Based on the novel by Kevin Kwan, both Kwan and director Jon Chu told THR they turned down a big payday to gamble on releasing the film in theaters. Crazy Rich Asians was the first studio with full Asian-American representation since The Joy Luck Club 25 years ago. “We were gifted this position to make a decision no one else can make, which is turning down the big payday for rolling the dice [on the box office] — but being invited to the big party, which is people paying money to go see us,” Kwan said before the film opened. Well, their gamble paid off—Crazy Rich Asians is a critical and commercial smash.
If you’ve seen the movie, then you’ll probably find this story as moving as we did (if you haven’t seen it yet, spoiler alert). A Mandarin cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” comes in at a key moment late in the film, just as Constance Wu’s character Rachel Chu is about to make a major decision in her life—yet getting the rights to use the song was never a slam dunk. Warner Bros. executives and Coldplay themselves were reluctant, but that didn’t deter Chu. The director wrote an impassioned, beautiful letter to the band explaining his reason for wanting to use the song. His personal story of what “Yellow” meant to him offers emotional insight into how important Crazy Rich Asians is not only for the audiences who flocked to theaters and saw, for the first time in a quarter century, and big American studio film focused solely and squarely on Asian-Americans, but also the filmmakers themselves. Representation matters. Chu beautifully explains why “Yellow” was so transcendent for him and his friends, and it’s no wonder the band ended up giving him full permission to use their song.
Here’s Chu’s entire letter (via THR) here:
Dear Chris, Guy, Jonny and Will,
I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow. From being called the word in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song.
For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, her love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.
I remember seeing the music video in college for the first time time on TRL. The one shot with the sun rising was breathtaking for both my filmmaker and music-loving side. It immediately became an anthem for me and my friends and gave us a new sense of pride we never felt before…(even though it probably wasn’t ever your intention). We could reclaim the color for ourselves and it has stuck with me for the majority of my life.
So the reason I am writing this now, is because I am directing a film for Warner Bros. called Crazy Rich Asians (based on the best selling novel) and it is the first ALL-ASIAN cast for a Hollywood studio film in 25 years. Crazy. We were recently featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly to commemorate the fact.
The story is a romantic comedy about a young Asian-American women (played by Constance Wu) from New York coming to terms with her cultural identity while she’s visiting her boyfriend’s mother (played by Michelle Yeoh) in Singapore. It’s a lavish, fun, romantic romp but underneath it all, there’s an intimate story of a girl becoming a woman. Learning that she’s good enough and deserves the world, no matter what she’s been taught or how she’s been treated, and ultimately that she can be proud of her mixed heritage.
The last scene of the movie shows this realisation as she heads to the airport to return home a different woman. It’s an empowering, emotional march and needs an anthem that lives up and beyond her inner triumph, which is where “Yellow” comes in.
It would be such an honour to use your song that gave me so much strength throughout the years, to underscore this final part of our film. And for me personally, it would complete a journey that I’ve been going through, fighting to make it in the movie business.
I know as an artist it’s always difficult to decide when it’s ok to attach your art to someone else’s — and I am sure in most instances you are inclined to say no. However, I do believe this project is special. I do believe this is a unique situation in which the first Hollywood studio film, with an All-Asian cast is not playing stereotypes or side-players, but romantic and comedic leads. It will give a whole generation of Asian-Americans, and others, the same sense of pride I got when I heard your song. I know it’s recontextualized but I think that’s what makes it powerful. I want all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as your words and melody made me feel when I needed it most.
Your consideration would mean so much to me and our project.
I can show you the movie if you want to see the context, or talk to you if you have any questions. Thank you for taking the time to listen.
Jon M. Chu
Featured image: Caption: (L-R) AWKWAFINA and director JON M. CHU on the set of Warner Bros. Pictures’ and SK Global Entertainment’s and Starlight Culture’s contemporary romantic comedy “CRAZY RICH ASIANS,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Credit: Sanja Bucko