When Kevin Kwan’s romantic novel “Crazy Rich Asians” came out in 2013, Rachel Haisley “just kind of fell in love.”
“I felt like I was reading a book about something I’ve never read before,” said Haisley, a bookseller at The King’s English in Salt Lake City.
“It’s definitely a romantic comedy. It’s also about people, and what does money mean and what does family mean?” Haisley said. “It’s a light read, but it also has deeper implications.”
Fans of the book, like Haisley, are hoping the story of Rachel Chu — a Chinese-American New Yorker who learns her boyfriend, Nick Young, is a member of Singapore’s richest family and one of Asia’s most sought-after bachelors — makes it to the movie screen with that mix of lightness and depth intact.
“Crazy Rich Asians” opens in theaters nationwide Wednesday. It’s the latest in a long list of popular books being translated into films.
Coming soon are movie versions of Emily M. Danforth’s LGBT coming-of-age drama “The Miseducation of Cameron Post,” Nick Hornby’s music-fueled comic novel “Juliet, Naked,” Sarah Waters’ Gothic thriller “The Little Stranger,” Darcey Bell’s suburban mystery “A Simple Favor,” Meg Wolitzer’s marital drama “The Wife” and John Bellairs’ terrifying children’s book, “The House With a Clock in Its Walls.” And that’s just in the next two months.
Answering a Twitter query about good adaptations, Salt Lake Tribune readers suggested “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, some of the “Harry Potter” franchise (particularly the third installment, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”), the kidnapping drama “Room," Ang Lee’s take on Jane Austen’s “Sense & Sensibility,” the Coen brothers’ version of “True Grit” and Rob Reiner’s “The Princess Bride” as their favorites.
The author whose works most frequently led to good adaptations was Stephen King. Readers cited King-based films such as “The Green Mile,” “Misery,” “It,” “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Stand by Me.”
What separates a good movie adaptation of a book from a disappointing one?
“One of the things that a movie has to do to be successful is that it has to do something that the book did not do originally,” said Jose Knighton, a bookseller at Salt Lake City’s Weller Book Works.
For example, Knighton points to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 psychological thriller, “The Shining.”
Kubrick, he said, “departed in significant ways from the intentions of Stephen King. In King’s version, all these bizarre things that take place, they’re very overt — there’s no doubt that they happen. In the movie, you’re never really sure if these things are happening for real or if they’re in Jack Nicholson’s head.”
Most of Kubrick’s most successful movies — “Dr. Strangelove,” “Lolita,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Barry Lyndon” among them — are adaptations of novels that took their own paths, Knighton said.
Contrast that to director Jeff Hillcoat’s 2009 version of Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic novel, “The Road.”
“It’s such a vivid and bleak apocalyptic novel,” Knighton said. “The movie kind of disarms some of the things that are unique to the book. And it’s a little timid.”
Knighton also found fault with Alex Garland’s “Annihilation,” a science-fiction thriller released this February and based on Jeff VanderMeer’s novel. “It visually transcended the novel, but it’s so easy to make things so vivid on the screen,” Knighton said. “Somehow, it didn’t take that next step to another level.”
Haisley is apprehensive about whether “Crazy Rich Asians” will be able to make that leap.
“Reading ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ is sort of like reading Russian literature,” she said, as it captures a lot of nuance and details of super-rich Singapore society — so much so that the book contains footnotes. “I’m worried the movie is not going to translate that well,” she said.
Voracious readers may be at a disadvantage sometimes when watching a movie based on their favorite books, Knighton said.
“There’s no way to read a novel before seeing the movie version of it to not be prejudiced,” he said. “It’s hard to walk into a theater after reading a book without having carved in stone your anticipation of it.”