Mild SPOILERS for Crazy Rich Asians ahead.
Jon M. Chu’s Crazy Rich Asians movie cast Glee alum Harry Shum Jr. as Charlie Wu, and although he’s sixth billed in the credits, the actor barely appears in the movie – here’s why. Based on Kevin Kwan’s novel of the same name, Crazy Rich Asians follows NYU professor Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) who travels to Singapore with her boyfriend Nick Young (Henry Golding) to meet his family and attend his best friend’s wedding. While in Singapore, Rachel also visits her college friend Peik Lin (Awkwafina) and meets much of Nick’s extended family. However, while Nick’s cousin Astrid (Gemma Chan) and second cousin Oliver (Nico Santos) take a liking to Rachel, Nick’s mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) is not impressed.
The movie, which adapts much of Kwan’s novel to the letter, also follows Astrid through her own relationship with her husband Michael Teo (Pierre Png). Working as a B-plot to Rachel and Nick’s A-plot, Astrid learns Michael is cheating on her and eventually leaves him. The arc mirrors Rachel and Nick’s own relationship since Michael’s feelings of inadequacy compared to Astrid’s family are part of the reason the marriage ends – at the same time Rachel is struggling to come to terms with not feeling like she can live up to Eleanor’s standards. However, Crazy Rich Asians actually reduces much of Astrid and Michael’s storyline from the book, and one major casualty of that is Charlie Wu, played by Harry Shum Jr.
In Kwan’s book, Charlie Wu and Astrid were engaged to be married when they were younger, but Astrid left him because her family didn’t approve. She then went on to marry Michael, a former soldier and entrepreneur, but he never makes as much money as Astrid’s family and feels insecure because of it. In the novel, Astrid reconnects with Charlie at Colin Khoo and Araminta Lee’s wedding, and Charlie helps Astrid investigate her husband’s infidelity by tracking down Michael’s mistress. In Kwan’s later novels – China Rich Girlfriend and Rich People Problems – Charlie and Astrid get back together and build a new life. However, in Chu’s film adaptation, fans don’t get to any of Charlie and Astrid’s relationship beyond a brief meeting in a mid-credits scene for Crazy Rich Asians. So, why was Shum Jr. cut from Crazy Rich Asians?
In an interview with EW, Chu explained that Charlie originally had a slightly larger role in the movie, appearing in a scene at Colin and Araminta’s wedding where he danced with Astrid. In fact, that scene, which was eventually cut, appeared in the early trailers for Crazy Rich Asians, indicating it was filmed but removed from the film during the editing process. Chu explained the decision to cut Shum Jr’s Charlie out of the main film:
What we put in the movie was great — they actually dance together — and it was so awesome, and Harry’s so charming and so lovable. But the problem was, it made Astrid feel like she was leaving Michael for Charlie, and we didn’t have enough room to expand on the idea. We just had to stay focused. Ultimately it’s about her independence, so that scene was in there all the way until the very end. When we took it out, Astrid’s journey became stronger. It was about her, not about her finding love.
Still, Shum Jr. does appear in the mid-credits scene for Crazy Rich Asians, where he and Astrid reconnect at the engagement party that serves as the final scene of the film proper. Chu said he hopes it serves as a tease for what may be explored in another film about these characters – that is, if he’s given the chance. A follow-up will likely depend on how well the film does at the box office, though reviews for Crazy Rich Asians have been largely positive so far.
If there is a sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, it seems likely Charlie and Astrid’s relationship would be more of a focus, with her moving on from Michael and reconnecting with her former fiancé. Certainly with two books left of story to cover, Chu has more than enough material to work with for a potential sequel. But whether Crazy Rich Asians gets a follow-up, and how much would be dedicated to Shum Jr’s Charlie and Chan’s Astrid, remains to be seen.