Crazy Rich Asians is one of the few Hollywood blockbuster movies that showcases contemporary Singapore in a significant way and not just as a passing mention or a joke about our strict rules. So if you were inspired to find out more about Singapore after seeing it featured in the Crazy Rich Asians movie, here’s the lowdown on what those beautiful Singaporean locations from the movie are like in real life from a fellow Singaporean.
But first – a little about why I’m excited about the Crazy Rich Asians movie in the first place. SPOILERS for the movie/book series abound below, and you can watch the trailer here if you haven’t already, or pick up the book on Amazon [affiliate link]
One of the more interesting things I’ve done in my freelance life was to spend a few days as an extra on the film set of Crazy Rich Asians when they were filming in Singapore in mid 2017. That’s partially why I was so stoked to finally catch the movie when it was released in Singapore a whole year later – to see if I could spot myself in the background of any of the shots!
While most of the Crazy Rich Asians story (in the first book at least) is set in Singapore, I will always associate it with South America in my head because it was one of the book series that kept me company on those long bus commutes across the continent. I’d heard about the series for awhile but never got around to reading it until I had all this spare time on buses, but after spending months away from home, it was nice to read about Singapore in a fluffy entertaining book.
So when a friend asked me if I wanted to be an extra on the Crazy Rich Asians set when they filmed in Singapore, of course I jumped at the chance to be involved. I enjoyed all 3 books, I was curious about all the hype about the all-Asian Hollywood cast, I finally had the free time AND I would be paid as well – check, check, check!To be honest, being an extra is pretty boring work – you’re living background scenery meant to help provide some ‘authenticity’ into a tightly controlled movie set. It’s a lot of repetition as you go through takes and retakes of the same scene, you need to be able to take instruction but you barely need your brain.
I spent 2 days as an extra, namely in Esplanade, Bukit Pasoh and Ann Siang Hill. I’ll probably need to scrutinize the film a little when I get my hands on it, but the closest I came to making it on screen was in that scene in Ann Siang Hill where Michelle Yeoh’s character Eleanor Young was in a striped white suit walking along the shophouse row of a five-foot way and entering a doorway to the mahjong parlour to meet Rachel. I spotted the shoulder of my companion – my ‘fake mum’ – flash on screen just before they cut away, I was 0.5 seconds away from making my Hollywood debut (LOL).
All in all, I did enjoy the movie – I thought it was entertaining and colourful. The movie has made some significant changes to the characters from the books which I’m curious to see how those will play out in the sequel, but overall I thought it was a fun movie – I love that it showcases Singapore even if it’s mostly the manicured tourist side that we see.
I think there are some misses in representing Singapore’s people and its culture – to me it’s very much a movie that’s set IN Singapore as opposed to being a movie ABOUT Singapore. And I say this as a Chinese Singaporean – we’re a country with a Chinese majority but some of it was weirdly Chinese-y in a non-Singaporean way. But the movie has kickstarted a lot of meaningful dialogue in mainstream media about being Asian, the diversity within Asia and representation that is important for people to talk about.
You can check out some of my Crazy Rich Asians articles over at Culture Trip, where I gave an overview of the Singaporean filming locations from the first trailer that was released, as well as a bit of desktop research into who exactly are the real Crazy Rich Asians in Singapore these days.
Filming locations in Singapore
A lot of the film was shot in neighbouring Malaysia, namely Kuala Lumpur, Langkawi and Penang, but these locations below are the places in Singapore that I spotted from the trailer and in the movie. Again, MAJOR SPOILERS if you haven’t watched the show. I’m mostly working off the trailer and my memory of watching the show just once at this point, so let me know if you spot something inaccurate.
Rachel and Nick arrive at Singapore’s Changi Airport Terminal 3 and she marvels at how the airport has a butterfly garden of all things. (cue me raising an eyebrow and wondering how much STB/CAG paid for her to say that)
Changi Airport is an international favourite transit hub for its award-winning comfort and many amenities. Besides that aforementioned butterfly garden, you can also find kinetic art sculptures, sunflower gardens, a free movie theatre and a swimming pool among other things.
I’ve spent a fair bit of time passing in and out of Changi Airport and it’s both a gateway to adventure and a symbol of home for me. I love how Changi Airport is a legitimate hangout spot for people on the weekends even if they aren’t travelling out of the country – it’s especially popular with students and families because it has lots of nice wide open spaces and it’s relatively quiet. Also, I’m probably biased because I’m Singaporean but I love how efficient this airport is – on a good day, I can deplane and clear immigration in less than half an hour.
Here’s an article I wrote about how you can explore Singapore by subway aka the MRT from Changi Airport in the east all the way to Joo Koon in the far west!
Newton Food Centre
Colin and Araminta take Nick and Rachel to Newton Food Centre for their first Singaporean meal.
In the books, they had a bit more of a discussion on where to go and end up at Lau Pa Sat instead.
Newton is a pretty popular hawker centre with the tourists, some stalls are open in the afternoon but it truly comes alive at night during dinner. I’m a little surprised they decided to shoot at Newton and not at the book’s location of Lau Pa Sat which is also a tourist favourite and in my opinion more photogenic with its octagonal shape and high filigreed roof. Apparently Newton is Kevin Kwan’s favourite hawker centre so maybe that might have been why. According to this ChannelNewsAsia interview, they nearly ended up at East Coast Lagoon.
This article from the Michelin Guide Singapore has some pretty interesting facts about the behind the scenes action of this scene and other food related bits in the movie. This entire hawker scene was a closed set and all those people in the background are extras! Also, not all the stalls you saw on screen will be there if you visit, some stalls like the satay stands were specially built for the movie as they wanted it to reflect the author’s memories of the place in the 90’s and because Director Jon M Chu liked the outdoor grills he saw in East Coast.
Hawker centres are definitely my favourite way to introduce Singapore and its culture to visitors, from the variety of food available to the weirdness of our ‘chopeing’ or reserving seats with tissue paper. While you can visit on your own, it’s best to go to a hawker centre in a group so you can order a lot more food for sharing. My hawker centre of choice? Old Airport Road Food Centre. You can eat a lot of good food for under $5 in Singapore.
Bukit Pasoh Road
Rachel is telling Peik Lin about her showdown with Eleanor (‘bawk bawk bitch’) in an alfresco restaurant along Bukit Pasoh Road.
Bukit Pasoh Road is located on the edge of the famous Chinatown district and stands in the shadow of the towering Pinnacle – Singapore’s highest public housing block. Upcoming hipster areas like Keong Saik Road and Everton Park are very nearby as well.
This particular road is lined with colourful shophouses, and these particular heritage buildings are home to many Chinese clan associations and an assortment of other shops and eateries. The ladies are specifically at the alfresco area of a restaurant called Humpback that serves up some great cocktails and seafood.
I was a driving extra in this particular scene and spent many, many takes driving and reversing my car up and down this short stretch of road. The entire road had been blocked off for filming that day!
Colin and Araminta’s wedding took place at CHIJMES with the ceremony happening in the chapel CHIJMES hall.
In the book, the couple held their wedding at the fictional First Methodist Cathedral.
CHIJMES (pronounced ‘chimes’) was once the Convent of the Holy Infant Jesus Girls School back in the day, but now the compound has been turned into a nightlife spot with bars and restaurants. It’s pretty bustling on the evenings and weekends, but I’ve always regarded it as more of a tourist/expat scene – I don’t come here very often on my own volition. The location is very central, right next to Raffles City Shopping Centre, the luxurious Raffles Hotel and the Bras Basah arts and culture district (where there’s also a lot of street art).
CHIJMES Hall or the chapel where that magical wedding scene takes place definitely doesn’t look like that on a normal day. It has those lovely stained glass windows and the high arched roof, but those plants and that amazing water aisle are all movie-only additions. While this was built as a chapel, it is less a church and more of an event space that can be rented out for a variety of events today – I’ve attended corporate dinners and mini bazaars in that space.
Gardens by the Bay
Colin and Araminta’s wedding dinner reception takes place under the iconic alien trees in the Supertrees Grove in Gardens by the Bay against the backdrop of Marina Bay Sands.
In the book, the wedding reception took place at Fort Canning Park.
The Supertrees are perhaps one of Singapore’s most photographed and recognized tourist attractions so it’s no surprise they feature in this film, and as a major party location to boot. Most of the time you can visit the Supertree Grove for free – I’ve brought visiting friends here several times. It’s most crowded in the evening when tourists flock over to see the daily music and light show called Garden Rhapsody. Other popular activities here include taking a walk at the canopy level bridge OCBC Skyway between the trees, getting a drink at Indochine which is situated in one of the Supertrees itself, or just sitting around the benches and relaxing in the cool evening.
Other than the now annual Christmas Market set up under the trees at the end of the year (you have to pay to enter then!), I’ve never seen this spot rented out for private events like this, so maybe that’s a crazy rich thing to do.
Ann Siang Hill
Eleanor Young is seen walking along a shophouse row wearing a sharp suit and walking into a doorway to meet with Rachel at the Mahjong parlour. The exterior shots are of Ann Siang Hill, but the interior shots were shot in Malaysia.
First and foremost, people do play mahjong with their friends but I’ve never seen or heard of mahjong parlours in Singapore – the only public gambling that’s legal takes place in the casinos, but there definitely aren’t mahjong parlours that the public can drop into and play. There is a great behind the scenes analysis of the Mahjong scene by the Crazy Rich Asians team over at Vulture.
Ann Siang Hill is located in the Chinatown district. There are lots of conserved shophouses in this stretch but along with the adjacent Club Street, it is a nightlife spot popular with the working crowd. On Friday and Saturday nights, the roads are blocked off to traffic and crowds from the little bars and restaurants spill out onto the streets giving the area a lively vibe.
Some funny things about this scene: It was raining the day this was shot so between every take, people were wiping water droplets off the cars so it wouldn’t look like it had just rained. My car (parked along the road) was pretty clean that day from all that wiping. Also, me and my companion (my ‘fake mother’) had to have a repeated imaginary conversation about what we were planning to eat for lunch as we shot that scene just in case the audio got picked up.
Rachel meets Nick for the first time after they break up and he proposes to her right on the waterfront of Esplanade Park, specifically Queen Elizabeth Walk near the Lim Bo Seng memorial.
Esplanade Park is quite lovely and underrated. Built in 1943, it is one of the oldest parks in Singapore and contains monuments dedicated to war hero Lim Bo Seng, the Cenotaph and a lovely fountain that dates back to 1882. The park mostly sees a lot of joggers exercising in the evenings and some picnickers on weekends, but it’s right in the centre of the Civic district with lots of must-see or historical sights around it, like Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall, the National Gallery, Asian Civilisations Museum and the Esplanade.
I hardly saw this scene being shot because I was stationed up on Anderson Bridge, the lovely white bridge you see in the backdrop of the shot. Those tiny people walking across the bridge? One of them COULD be me, can’t say for sure until I zoom right in.
I was involved in another driving scene that I had no idea what it was for at first, but later deduced that it was the backdrop of the shot where Astrid and Michael are in the car arguing on the way to the wedding That was shot somewhere along Fullerton Road and Connaught Drive – again traffic had been blocked off to allow for us to drive up and down that road unimpeded.
Marina Bay Sands Skypark
The three towers of the Marina Bay Sands actually features several times throughout the movie as a backdrop in various shots, but the ship-like Skypark features both at the start of the film where Radio1Asia is spreading the gossip about Nick bringing Rachel home to Singapore, and at the end of the film where Nick and Rachel celebrate their engagement in a party at Ce La Vi restaurant with synchronised swimmers performing in the famous infinity pool.
You can see all these spots easily and without extra charge if you are a guest of the Marina Bay Sands, but non-guests will have to pay S$23/person to access the observation deck and Skypark. It does have a lovely view of the surrounding area 57 storeys up, but if you are going to pay that much just to get up high, you might as well just fork out to eat/drink at one of the three restaurants up there while you are at it. Be prepared to pay tourist prices though.
The famous infinity pool is only for hotel guests though that hasn’t stopped plenty of people from trying to sneak up, and the pool is more likely to be filled with camera-toting tourists than synchronised swimmers or any sort of aqua workout – that again seems to be something only crazy rich people do.
This is the sort of place I’d do at least one time just to say that I’ve been there and done that and for the sheer novelty of it, but if you are budget conscious, there are plenty of free/cheaper options to get a view of Singapore from up high, and many other hotels that also offer infinity pools with a view if you want a cheaper hotel option.
Did you watch the Crazy Rich Asians movie? What did it make you think about Singapore? Tell me in the comments.
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