Singapore is turning “Crazy Rich Asians” into a rebranding opportunity

It does look pretty fun.
It does look pretty fun.
Image: Warner Bros.
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The release this week of Crazy Rich Asians has been hailed as a win for Asian and Asian-American representation in Hollywood. And it’s a win also for the place where much of the film is set: Singapore.

The island’s savvy tourism board is making the most of the opportunity, partnering with Warner Bros to make sure it is featured heavily in promotional activities for the film, and tapping Singaporean actors who played supporting roles in the film to talk up the city-state as a tourist destination.

Much of the film is set in Singapore, and it features almost 300 Singaporean and permanent resident cast and production members. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) worked with the American public relations companies Edelman and Bullfrog + Baum to offer journalists interviews with actors, promising “a real first-hand, crazy insight into the best, rich travel experiences in the Lion City.”

Fiona Xie, who plays Kitty Pong—the “pretty woman” of the film, as she put it over email—was billed as the cast member who could best speak to Singapore’s art, culture, and craft cocktail scenes (she highlighted Singapore’s National Gallery, the Newton Circus, and its “magical technicolor Avatar-like Gardens By the Bay”), while STB offered up other members to speak to Singapore’s street food and fashion scenes.

Beyond brokering interviews with cast members, the board partnered with Warner Bros during the Hollywood premiere of the film, where its logo provided a red carpet backdrop. (The move slightly backfired when some of the lettering in STB’s logo fell off the backdrop, leaving it to read “Sincapore”—a mistake that Warner Bros apologized for.)

The tourism board is understandably eager to associate the nation with the lavish parties and luxurious lifestyles depicted in Crazy Rich Asians, and to brand the island as a culturally-rich (and literally rich) tourist destination. Though for such a tiny nation, it punches above its weight in Asia’s tourism rankings (pdf, p.9), Singapore is not an obvious destination for international travelers. It has some ground to make up, since it only became an independent nation in 1965 after a bloody Japanese occupation during World War II, a period of British colonization, and a brief and fraught union with Malaysia.

But over the past half century, the nation has enjoyed steady economic growth and political stability, boasting the 11th highest GDP per capita in the world in 2017. Today, it’s known for its modern attractions (including the world’s best airport), its cleanliness, and luxury offerings, from its shopping to its hotels to an abundance of Michelin-starred restaurants.

It’s this nouveau riche image of Singapore that’s featured in the film. From the luxury boutiques of Orchard Road to the world’s largest infinity pool, the movie highlights the city-state’s most lavish attractions.

Of course the Crazy Rich Asians version of Singapore, the one that STB is promoting, is far from the full story. Like any nation, Singapore is complex and imperfect: Over 80% of its population lives in public housing (paywall); domestic workers complain of widespread mistreatment; and income inequality is a major and growing concern. Some Singaporeans have complained that the film “erases” the poor and leaves out ethnic minorities such as Indians and Malays, showing only the lavish lifestyles of wealthy Chinese Singaporeans.

That said, the film has given Singapore’s tourism board the perfect opportunity to rebrand itself: as a stylish, fun, and “crazy rich” place to visit