On the one hand, you can enjoy the movie Crazy Rich Asians without knowing a thing about Singapore. It's a modern romantic comedy with a main character, Rachel Chu, who is much more than a hot mess or a passive damsel in distress. It's also a long-overdue representative breakthrough for Hollywood. On the other hand, you might be interested in learning how the world of fabulous wealth that Rachel travels to became that way.
The most prominent family in Kwan’s story are the Youngs, whose original fortune dates back to Nick’s Chinese-born great-grandmother, presumably at the turn of the 20th century. The Youngs got in on the ground floor of an older, Victorian-era wealth, viewed by its caretakers as sociologically distinct from the newer elites found across the Asia-Pacific. The unstated irony is that owning lots of land in Singapore—and Malaysia and China, not to mention London and Hawaii—made the Young family this fabulously wealthy only because the rest of Asia, along with its nouveau riche, made the region so economically productive in recent decades. These tensions across geography and generation appear at the margins of the romantic plot. Nick’s cousin explains to Rachel that in Asia’s richest circles, you will find Hong Kongers, “Taiwan Tycoons,” and “Beijing Billionaires.” These families are not equals.
While the story is fictional, the setting is not. Get a short course in Asian economics and how it gave birth to modern Singapore and its fabulous wealth at n+1 magazine.