How tech entrepreneurs helped make Crazy Rich Asians hit of the year
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How tech entrepreneurs helped make Crazy Rich Asians hit of the year

A few weeks before the release of Crazy Rich Asians, director Jon Chu hosted a dinner at his father's fabled Silicon Valley restaurant Chef Chu's for a couple dozen American tech entrepreneurs of Asian background, during which he asked them to get behind the film any way they could.

The mission: convince Hollywood that making a romantic comedy with an all-Asian cast wasn't just a bold move, it was good business too.

"We were all trying to brainstorm how can we get behind this, and one of the big ideas was let's do these cinema buy-outs," says Patrick Lee, serial entrepreneur and co-founder of Rotten Tomatoes (a company he understandably regrets having sold cheaply in 2004), who was among the guests that night.

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"We decided to just chip in money, buy out theatres a week before it opens, and start inviting influencers and people with social media reach, have them watch the movie, and then have them pay it forward – go out and buy more tickets, get your friends and family to go, buy out more theatres and spread it on social media."

Ultimately, he says, they bought out around 100 cinemas, and the #GoldOpen campaign drew support from celebrities and influencers across the spectrum.

"A lot of other minorities supported Crazy Rich Asians because they all have the same goal of getting more diversity into film and television," Lee says.

Patrick Lee, co-founder and former CEO of Rotten Tomatoes, was involved in the #GoldOpen campaign around the release of Crazy Rich Asians.

Patrick Lee, co-founder and former CEO of Rotten Tomatoes, was involved in the #GoldOpen campaign around the release of Crazy Rich Asians.Credit:Simon Schluter

It's hard to judge whether the campaign was a raging success or completely unnecessary. Either way, Crazy Rich Asians has outperformed all expectations, topping the US box office three weekends in a row. In Australia, it had taken $2.1 million in previews even before it officially opened last Thursday, and has now taken more than $8.6 million locally.

That has left the local iteration of #GoldOpen in a slightly odd position. Instead of using their event to promote the film, the film is now promoting their event.

"We have turned #GoldOpen into a charity event," says Lisy Kane, co-founder of Girl Geek Academy and producer at game developer League of Geeks. (She is not, she hastens to add, crazy rich, though "one day I would like to be".)

All ticket proceeds from Friday night's screening at Crown in Melbourne will go to One Girl, a charity that targets young girls and women who don’t have access to education.

Kane is one of a group of young Australian entrepreneurs of Asian background who felt just as inspired as their Californian counterparts by the first Hollywood studio film in 25 years with an all-Asian cast. The fact that a couple of the actors were Australian only ramped up their excitement.

Crazy Rich Asians star Chris Pang, with some of the local #GoldOpen entrepreneurs: (l-r) Lisy Kane of Girl Geek Academy, Wenona Lok of Imagikai and Sheryl Thai of Cupcake Central.

Crazy Rich Asians star Chris Pang, with some of the local #GoldOpen entrepreneurs: (l-r) Lisy Kane of Girl Geek Academy, Wenona Lok of Imagikai and Sheryl Thai of Cupcake Central.Credit:Eddie Jim

Wenona Lok, who runs the audience-engagement company Imagikai, was at university with Chris Pang, the Melbourne-born actor who plays groom Colin Khoo in the movie.

"It's so exciting to have a movie like this," she says. "It's so visually beautiful. In this movie every guy is a leading man. Having such a diverse Asian cast will hopefully change the way people look at things."

That's Pang's hope, too.

"There was a lot of pressure on this film to perform – taking the cultural significance aside, it's a classic rom-com and they just haven't been performing all that well," he says.

"I'm really glad to say it's delivered. It's now a cultural phenomenon."

You can hear Karl on the weekly pop culture podcast The Clappers and follow him on Facebook at karlquinnjournalist and on twitter @karlkwin

Karl has been a journalist at Fairfax Media since 1999, in a variety of writing and editing roles. Karl writes about popular culture with a particular focus on film and television.