Crazy Rich Asians is truly one of the best films of the year. But you don’t need my review to convince you. The film blew past its box office expectations earning itself a $26.5 million dollar opening weekend, and $35 million dollars overall when it opened last Wednesday. It may have been 25 years since we’ve seen an Asian ensemble of this size in a mainstream rom-com, but it does prove that Asians can lead a film and subvert some of those Hollywood clichés. But that wasn’t the only thing that brought me to tears. Aside from Kina Grannis‘ cover of “Can’t Help Falling In Love,” The Voice season 10 contestant Katherine Ho‘s cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow” left me a sobbing mess. And I don’t even like Coldplay.
So how did director Jon M. Chu get permission to use that song – a song with a title that’s also a derogatory term towards the Asian culture – and how did Ho become the voice of a song that is considered to be an anthem? Check out the full story, Chu’s letter, and the song if you haven’t heard it below. Minor spoilers follow.
Ho’s Mandarin cover of “Yellow” comes toward the end of Crazy Rich Asians, where Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is heading home after coming to terms with who she is. Though it may be sung in Mandarin, it is almost hard for anyone to recognize the song if they aren’t familiar with the language or is a Coldplay fan – neither of which I am. Soon enough the soothing and emotionally powerful melody made me realize that it was a Coldplay song.
Speaking to The Washington Post, the 19-year-old Katherine Ho never realized what kind of a profound impact the song would have on audiences:
“I didn’t think it was going to get this much response. So many people reached out saying it made them cry. I didn’t know I could have this kind of impact on people.”
Did I mention how I was weeping during that sequence? I did? Okay. But the story is just as inspiring as the film itself.
In January, she had received a text that asked if she was able to sing in Mandarin and if she would be interested in submitting a demo for a movie/television show that was not identified at the time.
Although she did not have any idea what the project was, the chance to sing in Mandarin for a film or TV project was an opportunity she could not pass up. And soon, she found herself practicing a cover of Coldplay’s “Yellow.” A demo which she would send on over. It would be days before she heard back from them. But it did not bother her in the least bit, as she shrugged it off and treated the moment like any of her previous auditions.
Little did she know, she got the gig. And when it was revealed that she would be singing a song for Crazy Rich Asians, “her heart exploded.”
While the song may be a cover of “Yellow,” in Mandarin it’s titled “Liu Xing,” which translates to “shooting star.”
“It’s kind of like chasing this elusive idea of someone or something and then not knowing if it’s real or if it’s just going to cause downfall for you. But in the end, it’s something that you go for. You risk it all, and then it pays off.”
But there is a much deeper meaning to the song. Not only does it come at a pivotal moment during Crazy Rich Asians, its title has a negative connotation for the Asian culture. However, Chu wanted to change that. In an interview with THR, the director revealed that he was going to use that song to own that term:
“We’re going to own that term. If we’re going to be called yellow, we’re going to make it beautiful.”
And it worked. Although, getting the permission to use the song proved to be a lot harder.
Chu says he considered using Rhianna’s “Stay” and Sia tracks, but none of them hit the right tones:
“We tried so many other songs, but everything was about the love story and not about the bigger context of who we are.”
So in a last ditch effort, the director wrote a personal letter to Coldplay members Chris Martin, Guy Berryman, Jonny Buckland, and Will Champion. In it, Chu says the word may have a derogatory meaning, but his views changed when he heard the song.
“For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I’ve ever heard: the stars, the color of her skin, the love. It was such an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.”
Within 24 hours after reading the letter, Coldplay approved its use. And, as they say, the rest is history.