One particularly nice flourish in this summer’s hit rom-com Crazy Rich Asians is that the soundtrack features a bunch of Western songs sung in Chinese-language covers. That speaks to the way the movie examines Asian and Asian American cross-cultural differences, and also reflects the fact that Crazy Rich Asians is the first contemporary-set Hollywood studio film with an all-Asian cast in 25 years. The film’s climax is underscored by a version of Coldplay’s “Yellow” sung in Mandarin by Chinese-American singer Katherine Ho, and it turns out it took a direct appeal from director Jon M. Chu to make that happen. In an interview with Quartzy, Chu reveals that Warner Bros. was initially hesitant about using the song for fear that its title would be seen as insensitive (the term “yellow” is often used in derogatory ways against Asians and Asian Americans). Chu eventually convinced the studio that the song was the right choice, but then had to get Coldplay onboard as well.
After the band initially rejected the request, Chu wrote a direct appeal to Coldplay’s members. There’s a little bit of discrepancy in how events unfold from there. Quartzy claims that the band said yes just an hour after Chu emailed his letter, while The Huffington Post reports that the band said yes after seeing a screening of the film. Either way, Coldplay seems to have been won over fairly quickly by Chu’s passion for their song. And The Hollywood Reporter was able to obtain the moving letter Chu sent to the band last December. The opening paragraph begins:
I know it’s a bit strange, but my whole life I’ve had a complicated relationship with the color yellow. From being called the word in a derogatory way throughout grade school, to watching movies where they called cowardly people yellow, it’s always had a negative connotation in my life. That is, until I heard your song. For the first time in my life, it described the color in the most beautiful, magical ways I had ever heard: the color of the stars, her skin, the love. It was an incredible image of attraction and aspiration that it made me rethink my own self image.
After explaining how he intends to use the song in the empowering emotional climax of his film, Chu writes: “It will give a whole generation of Asian-Americans, and others, the same sense of pride I got when I heard your song. I know it’s recontextualized but I think that’s what makes it powerful. I want all of them to have an anthem that makes them feel as beautiful as your words and melody made me feel when I needed it the most.” You can read the full letter over on The Hollywood Reporter. Meanwhile, The Washington Post published a lovely profile on Katherine Ho, the 19-year-old college student and former Voice contestant who sang the cover (and who considers Constance Wu a personal idol). You can also listen to the powerful cover itself right here: