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Successful Asians push Crazy Rich Asians

They aim to fuel interest in a film to blaze a pathway for more Asian-American representation

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Asian-American industry leaders have been spending thousands of dollars renting out dozens of theatres for special screenings of Crazy Rich Asians before and during its opening week. Tickets are distributed free to Asian-American youth and community groups, friends and the occasional VIP.

New York

LAST month, a group of Silicon Valley venture capital and tech minds gathered for an exclusive dinner at Chef Chu's, an old-school Chinese restaurant in Los Altos, California.

Tucking into Peking duck and Dungeness crab in kung pao sauce, the diners - most of them Asian-American and some fierce competitors with one another - set about to tackle a common goal.

"The question to all of them was, 'How can this be successful, sustainably?'" said Bing Chen, an entrepreneur who organised the event.

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They were not discussing a startup, a scholarship programme or a political campaign. The task at hand was to take one of the summer's most anticipated new movies, Crazy Rich Asians, and turn it into a bona fide cultural phenomenon.

From that meeting, a social media hashtag campaign called #GoldOpen was born in anticipation of the movie's opening nationwide on Wednesday. But that would not be enough - a number of those at the dinner, after all, were rich Asians themselves.

So from New York City to Los Angeles, Houston to Honolulu, these industry leaders and others have spent many thousands of dollars renting out dozens of theatres for special screenings of the movie before and during its opening week. The campaign aims to fuel widespread interest in a film that could blaze a pathway for greater Asian-American representation in Hollywood, which organisers as well as the film's creators and stars say is long overdue.

"High tides raise all boats, so we wanted to see if we could be that high tide," said Andrew Chau, a co-founder of Boba Guys, a bubble tea chain. He chipped in for screenings in San Francisco and in Texas.

The backers have been spending US$1,600 to US$5,100 per screening, depending on the size of the theatre, its location and whether the film is shown during prime time. Those tickets have then been distributed free to Asian-American youth and community groups, friends and the occasional VIP.

"When's the last time you've seen so many Asians in a theatre?" said Tim Lim, a 33-year-old political consultant, after a screening in Washington on Monday. His friend helped to pay for the screening, and Mr Lim vowed to see the movie on his own at least three more times. "I want this to make as much money as possible," he said. "I'm going to watch the IMAX, 3D, US$25 version to get the cost up."

It is not the first time that communities have organised buyouts for films. Earlier this year, African-American school groups, churches and businesses bought seats in New York City and Chicago for Black Panther. In 2008, there were dozens of coordinated Sex and the City screenings for sororities and bachelorette parties.

The social media push also recalls past hashtag campaigns of #whitewashedOUT and #StarringJohnCho, which lamented the lack of Asian-American representation in Hollywood. The slogan #GoldOpen was chosen not just as a play on the film's opening, but also in part to blend and co-opt the racially tinged labels of "yellow" and "brown" sometimes attributed to Asians.

But in keeping with the light tone of the film - a romantic comedy about a Chinese-American professor's friction with her boyfriend's ultrarich Singaporean family - #GoldOpen was meant to capture the excitement surrounding the film and to encourage, rather than criticise.

The movie, which reportedly cost US$30 million to make, is expected to have a modestly successful opening and sell US$26 million in tickets till its first weekend, according to a survey of analysts by The Hollywood Reporter. While the #GoldOpen campaign is independent of the film production, the director - Jon Chu, son of the Chef Chu's owner - and its actors have conducted a parallel PR campaign. Before showings, the film's stars appear in a brief trailer, asking moviegoers to spread the word about the film on social media.

Some of them even showed up at a #GoldOpen screening in Los Angeles on Aug 8, as did Adele Lim, one of the screenwriters. Being Los Angeles, the screening, paid for by Kevin Lin, a co-founder of the streaming website Twitch, was VIP heavy: Hollywood insiders, company founders and the Olympic figure skating siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani.

The audience booed in unison at an instance of racism in the opening scene, whispered during a montage of Singapore street food, and reveled in Mandarin, Cantonese and the dialect Hokkien splashed into the dialogue.

When the movie ended, the film's male lead, Henry Golding, and fellow Crazy Rich Asians actors, including Selena Tan, Harry Shum Jr and Jimmy O Yang appeared and thanked the attendees for their support.

"We just checked Rotten Tomatoes," Yang told the audience. "We currently got 16 reviews, and we're at 100 per cent!" (As at Wednesday morning, rottentomatoes.com - one of whose founders, Patrick Lee, is a #GoldOpen backer - had counted 75 reviews, 96 per cent of which it considered positive.)

While leaving a Monday screening in the heart of Chinatown in Washington, Mr Lim, the political consultant, said that he could not believe that it had been 25 years since the film Joy Luck Club, the last Hollywood film with a majority-Asian cast that was not a period piece.

"It's something we should be embracing and seeing more of," Mr Lim went on. "I hope the uniqueness that it is for me, for my kids they're like, 'Oh, this is a normal thing.'" NYTIMES