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‘Crazy Rich Asians’ Stars Dueled Over Epic Mahjong Showdown: ‘No One Was Giving in’

”We knew that everything we did so far built up to this moment,“ director Jon M. Chu tells TheWrap about power play between Constance Wu and Michelle Yeoh’s characters

(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t seen “Crazy Rich Asians”)

“Crazy Rich Asians” is full of eccentric, over-the-top scenes and beautiful scenery, but ironically the hardest scene for director Jon M. Chu to shoot was one that might seem simple to moviegoers — the Mahjong showdown.

“It was the hardest because we knew it was the most important scene in the movie — we knew that these two trucks heading towards each other were going to make impact in this scene,” Chu told TheWrap. “Rachel (Constance Wu) and Eleanor (Michelle Yeoh) weren’t going to be moving, they were just going to be staring at each other, so the words were everything. We knew that everything we did so far built up to this moment, that we had to represent culturally both sides in the most fair and convincing manner.”

Chu didn’t just have to express this message to the audience, “we had to convince these very strong actors too. We had like six versions of this script.”

Ultimately, the actors brought their own experience into the scene, culminating in somewhat an improv show between Wu and Yeoh.

“Michelle was like, ‘I would never let this little American girl say these things to me, I would literally slap her,'” Chu recalled. “She then said, ‘I would say these things back,’ so I told her, ‘Say what you’d want to say.’ Then Constance was like, ‘I would NEVER let this b–ch say that to me!’ I don’t even think they talked to each other that day … they came in and it was a master class of acting, watching them stare each other down all day. They had their lines, but no one knew what exactly they were going to say. No one was giving in, so for me, it was easy shooting because at that point, I just set up camera and watched them play.”

The Mahjong scene, of course, is when Rachel ultimately stands up for herself and stands up to her boyfriend Nick’s (Henry Golding) mother. It’s an incredibly emotional and powerful scene, with the Mahjong pieces moving around while Eleanor and Rachel give each other multiple verbal slaps.

Wu was always meant to be Chu’s Rachel, the filmmaker said. In a recent interview with the Associated Press, Wu said she thought she wouldn’t be able to do the movie given her contractual obligation to “Fresh Off the Boat,” but she sent one last email to Chu, telling him she would give “110 percent” if he would just wait for her.

“I knew from the very beginning she was our Rachel,” Chu said. “When the dates weren’t a match, we started reading other people but nobody had the power that Constance had. In my mind, I was asking, ‘are we going to have to settle?’ But that’s when she emailed me and she expressed how much she cared about this movie.”

Jimmy O. Yang, Ken Jeong, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang and Harry Shum Jr also star. The film, holding a “fresh” score of 93 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, is in theaters now.