From The Straits Times    |

rich singaporeans

Photo: Kane Lim and Jamie Chua/Instagram 

He was at first reluctant to watch Crazy Rich Asians because he found the term “crazy rich” too negative. That was not how he viewed himself.

It was only after several people asked Mr Kane Lim about the Hollywood film that the Los Angeles-based Singaporean decided to give in – and he was pleasantly surprised at how much he enjoyed it.

The movie, now in its second week, has earned US$60 million (S$82m) globally, and has kept its No. 1 spot on the US box-office list, a feat seldom achieved by a romantic comedy.

The 27-year-old entrepreneur told The New Paper: “It was tasteful, and the fashion and jewellery were well done.”


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The jet-setting shopping sprees, for instance, are not far from the truth.

Mr Lim will be off to Las Vegas next month to do just that.

The self-professed shopaholic said: “The private jets and personal shopping are accurate, as sometimes people do not want to be seen in public.”

The Crazy Rich Asians character he identifies with the most is Astrid Leong (Gemma Chan), the sophisticated fashionista cousin of wealthy protaganist Nicholas Young (Henry Golding), who walks into a jewellery store and buys a pair of million-dollar earrings without a moment’s hesitation.

“I would so do that,” Mr Lim said. “I have walked into a designer shoe store and said, ‘I’ll take one pair of everything you have in every colour, I’ll take it all’.”

But Astrid – who has a cool exterior but warm heart – resonates with him in other ways.

Mr Lim said: “People always think I’m cold or unfriendly but actually when you talk to me, I’m always cheerful and kind.”

Featured in TNP in 2014 as one of Singapore’s “Rich Kids of Instagram“, he has made headlines with numerous snaps of his Chanel bags, his shoe collection worth at least half-a-million dollars and his customised Ferrari on his Instagram account, which now has 103,000 followers.

But he does not just rely on family wealth (he says they run a billion-dollar business though he declines to reveal details or identities), having reportedly made his first million by the age of 20.

He knows he has his privileged background to thank for his success and lifestyle, and he identifies with Nicholas.


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He said: “I’m trying to establish myself here in LA, but of course there is pressure from the family to go home and run the business.”

A Singaporean socialite in her 50s, who declined to be named, agreed that many of Crazy Rich Asians’ opulent scenes are not a departure from reality.

She told TNP: “When we have parties, it is not uncommon for butlers or international staff to be flown in for the occasion.”

“Neither is it uncommon for private jets to be hired, along with supermodels, (or to have) caviar.”

But she said Chinese-Singaporean old-money families tend to prefer to be subtle, opting to take out their private yachts to secluded islands and keep their wealth under the radar.

While Mr Lim said some of the weddings and shindigs he’s heard of or seen “can be far bigger and more elaborate than anything in the movie”, some parts of the movie were also over-the-top, like Nicholas’ grandmother’s sprawling mansion at the fictional Tyersall Park.

He said such houses are unrealistically large, and there are only three or four such places in Singapore.


High-society grapevine 

Portrayal of material possessions aside, Crazy Rich Asians also showcases the digital grapevine in an early scene, which connects ultra-rich Singaporeans across the globe via chat groups and social media.

Mr Lim said: “I am in some of these groups. The moment something happens, we will screenshot and send. If someone posts about someone else, immediately everyone will talk.”

But it is the movie’s depiction of love and family that really struck him, especially the way Nicholas’ mother Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) tries to keep him apart from his middle-class Chinese-American girlfriend Rachel Chu (Constance Wu).


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Mr Lim said: “When I was younger, even with friends, my parents were always very protective. I think they learnt in business and in life that there will be people who will try to cheat you.”

The socialite agreed, saying: “I have seen some mothers, grandmothers and aunts who fiercely protect their families. Any outsider is regarded with suspicion, especially if they are not from the same social class. But they always do it with subtlety and elegance.”

Mr Lim said that since Crazy Rich Asians has shone a light on the lifestyles of the rich in Singapore, he is more motivated than ever to continue working with charities.

He said: “I hope to use the exposure on my social media account to help organise events and raise funds for charities such as the Red Cross.”


No wow


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Jamie Chua is known for her HDB flat-sized closet and 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 (S$590,000).

Her much talked-about closet is unlocked using a fingerprint sensor, and in it are her designer bags, shoes, dresses and gowns that cost more than $20,000 each.

While the 44-year-old socialite enjoyed Crazy Rich Asians, she thought the clothing and bling on display lacked the wow factor.

She told TNP: “It is quite common for rich ladies to have beautiful clothing, and I thought it wasn’t that good in the movie. I didn’t look at the fashion and think to myself, ‘Oh my God, wow’.”

When it comes to her own shopping habits, Ms Chua said she would think carefully before buying something – unless it is a Mini Kelly, that is.

The tiny Hermes bag can cost upwards of $10,000, but the handbag collector said that if she saw one she liked, she would definitely buy it.


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Although Ms Chua said much of the movie was quite representative of Singapore’s high society when it came to the depiction of parties, she found the segment involving Nicholas’ grandmother’s tan hua (queen of the night) blooming party where guests were dressed to the nines, a bit exaggerated.

She said: “Rich people in Singapore are quite casual in their own homes.”

But the Instagram-famous mother of two – her son Cleveland Cuaca is 23, and daughter Calista Cuaca is 19 – did relate to other parts of Crazy Rich Asians.

She said: “All mothers are like that (protective like Eleanor), they have their own opinions of the type of girl or boy they want their children to be with.”

She added: “And the way some rich kids treat their friends, I really don’t like that kind of thing. High society can be very judgemental, and don’t really like people who are not like them.” 


“We don’t party like that every weekend” 

chloe ng

Photo: Chloe Ng/Instagram 

While some parts of the movie are exaggerated, others are watered down, according to local socialite Chloe Ng, 21.

Still, Crazy Rich Asians is “80 to 90 per cent accurate”, said the recent law graduate from University College London.

Miss Ng, the daughter of society heavyweights Nina and Eddie Ng, whose family owns a shipping business, told TNP: “The parties, for example, were extravagant. The movie made it look like it was something we did every day, but it’s really not even every weekend.

“We have these parties once in a while, like a big ball where everyone gets dressed up in gowns.”


Wedding in Bali 


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The movie wedding of Nicholas’ best friend Colin Khoo (Chris Pang) and Araminta Lee (Sonoya Mizuno) in Chijmes also didn’t match up to some of high society’s real-life nuptials.

Miss Ng said: “Sometimes we fly out for weddings held in Bali. My cousin’s wedding was really very nice (with fireworks and fire dancers).”

But it is true that when socialites go shopping, they are often ushered into the back rooms of stores where exclusive pieces are kept just for them.

A “funny scene” Miss Ng said she related to was the Bible study scene involving Eleanor and a group of tai tais at her posh home.

Miss Ng said that her mother also belongs to a Bible study group, which recently had a staycation at Capella Singapore and a priest from Hong Kong was flown down to teach it.

She added: “Sometimes they go to Hong Kong too.”

Her favourite scene was when Nicholas, Rachel, Colin and Araminta pigged out at Newton Food Centre.

She said: “It is something we all do, we go for balls and parties and then find ourselves there eating.”

Like Mr Kane Lim, Miss Ng said the depiction of the gossiping and protectiveness was also reflective of real life high-society Singapore.

She said: “No matter where you are, even if you’re in London or Hong Kong, if something happens or you do something, everyone will find out and be talking about it. The circle in Singapore is small and news spreads fast.

“And when you introduce new friends, people will ask them what their parents do or who their daddy is”.

This story was first published on The New Paper.