‘Crazy Rich Asians’ writer Adele Lim is Malaysia’s Gamechanger

After travelling to the US at the age of 19, Lim has been a screenwriter on several Hollywood productions. (Instagram pic)

PETALING JAYA: The local entertainment industry has much to be proud of with Malaysian actors and filmmakers making a name for themselves on the international stage.

One of these trailblazers is Adele Lim, a writer and producer for numerous television shows and films, including “Crazy Rich Asians” and an upcoming Disney animated film.

She has much to be proud of. She was named on Elle’s Women in Hollywood Power List and in Variety’s Women’s Impact Report.

Fittingly, for this year’s 17th Boh Cameronian Arts Awards, Lim has been named a Gamechanger, in recognition of her work being an inspiration for other Malaysian arts practitioners.

She is currently based in Los Angeles in the US, but she took the time to speak to FMT about her journey to becoming what she is today.

“It is a tremendous honour,” she said, on being named a Gamechanger. “I have always been in the arts growing up in Malaysia, and it is exciting to see a revival.”

She said she had wanted to be a writer from a young age, and she took up the pen very early. She frequently told the stories of her family, and the odd detail about her own life, in newspaper opinion columns.

Lim posing for a photograph with film star Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. (Instagram pic)

She realised that an American education would open more doors of opportunity and creativity for her, so, at 19 years old, she packed her bags and headed for the US to continue her studies.

At first, the going was tough due to her lack of connections and unfamiliarity with American culture. But with hard work and some good luck, she managed to secure a job in Los Angeles.

Describing the American entertainment industry as “hard to break into” and “competitive”, Lim learnt the ins and outs of the industry as a writer’s assistant.

Throughout this time, her parents were, not surprisingly, worried about her welfare and her career. They had reason to be, she said, considering that she had no one looking out for her and she had invested a lot to get there.

“My parents worked in advertising. So, their thought was perhaps I could be a writer, but I would write ads. I would write commercials, be a copywriter, maybe be the creator of an advertising agency one day.”

Lim has been writing since she was young and finds satisfaction in seeing her imaginative ideas come to life. (Instagram pic)

But she stressed that her parents were supportive of her endeavours throughout this time. “I think they wanted to make sure that I had a real career behind it …So they were trying to give me options.”

Indeed, Lim attributed her love for the arts to her grandmother, a creative school teacher with a love for film and storytelling. Her own mother is a figure she looks up to as well, as she ran a multinational media company in a competitive, male-dominated time.

For Lim, there is something magical about seeing a scene she imagined in her head and wrote down in her script coming to life on set.

“There are very few jobs in the world where you can just create worlds, characters and scenarios and the next thing you know, they are building the set and bringing the vision that existed in your head to life.”

There is also a sense of satisfaction to be had, she said, when the worlds and fantasies that she created are shared with people all across the world.

Adele pauses for the cameras while attending the 2018 San Diego Asian Film Festival. (Instagram pic)

But, it is not easy to come up with worlds and characters that audiences will take a liking to these days.

“The audience has become so much more sophisticated,” said Lim. “If you look at TV, in the 1980s, in the 1990s, the stories were very simple. We have been in a golden age of TV storytelling for the last two decades … So, there’s this thing of being original and also being very current that you need to stay on top of.”

Also, the fact that filmmaking involves the collective efforts of many people also means that one’s ideas may not always be accepted by everyone.

The need to stay true to her vision, Adele said, coupled with the need to get people to see her point of view, can make things complicated.

For Lim, a good script is one that is “authentic” and she emphasised the importance of coming up with plots that bring something new to the table and capture the audience’s imagination.

Scriptwriting is no bed of roses, Lim said, and the first draft is almost always discarded, with many revisions being made before the final script is settled upon.

For Lim, scriptwriting is not easy and a good script requires much work and passion. (Instagram pic)

For budding screenwriters, Lim said, “People have this idea that, ‘I’m going to write one script that that will tell me and the world whether I’m a good writer or not’, and it won’t.”

It will merely be the first attempt of many, she said, and much time, love and passion have to be invested for a good script.

Asked which actor she wishes to work with, Lim answered, “Probably my secret actor crush, Idris Elba. I would love to write a movie with him in it.”

She noted that the American entertainment industry is finally tackling gender inclusivity and minority representation after decades of white male dominance.

“It is a problem that Hollywood has been aware of for a long time, but they didn’t have the motivation to fix it. I think the industry is really trying very hard right now to be more inclusive and give women more opportunities.”

However, she noted that lip service from studios is very different from the concrete action needed to bring about change.

Lim herself made headlines last year when she stepped away from the Crazy Rich Asians sequel due to pay disparity.

“It was important to make a stand because Hollywood has an issue with how they treat women in the film space. It was important for me to be able to walk away, not even so much just for myself, but to really bring attention to a problem in the industry.”

Click here to watch the 17th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards at 8:30 pm today.