Asians master the art of excess

Still from Crazy Rich Asians © Warner Bros.
Constance Wu as Rachel in Crazy Rich Asians

A new film shines a light on the growing power of Asian money.

Not so very long ago the Far East was a place that banks and companies sent those who were too incompetent for head office, but too well-connected for the old heave-ho. There was even an acronym for the phenomenon: Filth (Failed In London, Try Hong Kong). This was a win-win for all concerned as the lower domestic standard of living allowed the sunburned expats to live like kings, even on half-pay. However, as the hit film Crazy Rich Asians – set amid the social whirl of the Singaporean super-rich – demonstrates, it is now Westerners who are the poor relations when it comes to the art of excess.

The film “shines a light on the growing power of Asian money”, as Kati Chitrakorn points out on Chinese spenders alone made up 32% of the luxury goods market in 2017, more than any other nationality, thanks to both rising purchases in their home market and abroad. Singapore, where the movie is set, has also emerged as “a source of affluence”, a far cry from the days when it was regarded as a colonial backwater. Indeed, “one in 34 people in Singapore are millionaires” – a statistic that “makes it the sixth most millionaire-dense country in the world”.

Just for comic effect?

Some of the scenes in the film are “exaggerated for comic effect”, but many, including some of the “most preposterous”, are based on fact, says Guy Kelly in The Sydney Morning Herald. One scene shows a couple dealing with a snooty manager by buying the hotel that employs him. This is based on the real-life story of a man who arrived in London late and found his reservation wasn’t being honoured at the hotel. He just calmly told the manager, “You can give me my rooms, or I can put an ad in every English-speaking newspaper around the world tomorrow morning just explaining what’s happened to me. You choose.” 

Indeed, some familiar with the Singaporean scene complain the characters in the film just aren’t excessive enough, says Cheow Sue-Ann in The Straits Times. Socialite Jamie Chua complains that “the clothing and bling on display lack the wow factor”. And Ms Chua should know: she owns a “collection of more than 200 Hermes bags, including a Himalayan crocodile Birkin with white gold detailing and 245 diamonds costing a whopping US$432,000”. In true Singaporean super-rich style, this collection is housed in a “flat-sized closet” that is “unlocked using a fingerprint sensor”.

Still, it’s not as if the people portrayed in the film are exactly on skid row either. Entertainment Weekly’s Maureen Lee Lenker notes that the engagement ring used in the film (owned by actor Michelle Yeoh) “would cost a minimum of $45,000”. It would cost around $40m to replicate the “jaw-dropping wedding” that takes place in the film, which features “live musicians, an actual river down the aisle, fireworks, and more”. Trying to follow in the footsteps of the crazy rich portrayed in the film works out at “a total of $277,601,595 – just for a week in the life”.

Tabloid money… Leonardo DiCaprio’s great dilemma

• Lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret is losing sales because its use of supermodels puts it out of touch with today’s reality, according to critics. Could this be the end of the Victoria’s Secret “angels”, wonders Jane Moore in The Sun – the likes of Israeli supermodel  Bar Refaeli?

For years, the brand’s once hugely effective marketing strategy relied on scantily clad supermodels, including Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen and Gigi Hadid. Experts now say that women can no longer relate to “flawless” models. Investors in L Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company, are taking a beating as shares are down more than 45% this year, making the company’s stock the worst-performing in the S&P 500 index. But if we must say goodbye to the angels, how on earth will actor Leonardo DiCaprio source his next girlfriend?

• Did you see the pictures of a group of British holidaymakers, stripping off and disporting themselves in Rome’s war memorial fountain, the Altare della Patria, in front of horrified onlookers? asks Virginia Blackburn in the Daily Express. The British have always been a rowdy bunch, with the exception of a few decades last century when we managed to cultivate a reputation for good manners and bowler hats.

But there is something about this kind of behaviour that makes the majority of us Brits just want to curl up with shame. There are plenty of horrible resorts in Spain and Greece, where the locals complain about dreadful British behaviour, but are nonetheless quite happy to take British money. Why don’t they just go there?

• A dog called Oscar has made the papers because his mistress splurged five grand on a party for him, says Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday. Animal parties are a total waste of time and money – I should know. As smitten new parents of a crossbreed named Coco, the children and I hosted a puppy party for its first birthday. Party games such as “paws the pawcel” were prepared and a table was laid with tasty treats.

Seconds later, all the dogs started barking and chasing and biting each other. The neighbour’s black lab, Ernie, raced over and insisted on trying to “marry” Coco in front of the horrified children. All the dogs then scattered to the four winds. It was a fiasco. And yes, there were several “party poopers” too.