‘Expats’ May Not Be a True Story But It’s An Inspiring Adaptation

By Louie Fecou
Published: January 29, 2024 (Last updated: 4 weeks ago)
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Is Expats on Prime Video based on a true story?
Expats | Image via Prime Video

Many people who have resonated with the themes and tone of Expats are forgiven for thinking the series is based on a true story, probably due to the often raw and emotional narrative. However, LuLu Wang’s Prime Video series is adapted from a novel, not based on fact, though the story’s universal themes may very well give that impression.

Is Expats based on a true story?

No, Expats is not based on a true story. However, it is adapted from a novel, with the story dealing with deep resonating feelings such as regret, remorse, guilt, motherhood, and forgiveness. It is easy to see why many may relate the situations in the show to their own life experiences.

The book was a huge success and explored the relationships and converging stories of three leads living in Hing Kong, and struggling with their demons. The production team on the show has been careful to emulate the slow-burning and melancholic tone of the novel, with a certain amount of success. The author of the novel, Janice Y K Lee, would work with the production team very closely to help keep the tone authentic to the source material.

So, while Expats is not a true story, it takes its time to explore people dealing with true-to-life themes and is never tempted to swerve into melodrama.

What book is Expats based on?

Expats is based on the novel The Expatriates by Janice Y K Lee. The novel was written in 2016 and was the second by the writer, who had achieved acclaim for her previous novel The Piano Teacher.

Lee would also be on board with the production of the series and would contribute to writing the teleplay for the show’s first episode.

Who is author Janice Y.K. Lee?

Janice Y. K. Lee is of Korean descent and was born and raised in Hong Kong, where the novel and series are set. Lee would eventually move to the United States, where she would find herself as an editor of Elle and Mirabella magazines.

Her first novel, The Piano Teacher, was originally conceived as a short story that she would expand into a full-length work. The debut work would be hugely popular, lasting nineteen weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. She met and married Joseph Bae in 1996. Bae was a Korean-American and the couple would stay in America, living in New York with their four children.

What is the synopsis for Expats?

The official press release for the series describes it thusly:

“Set against the vibrant and tumultuous tapestry of 2014 Hong Kong, Expats centers on three American women—Margaret (Nicole Kidman), Hilary (Sarayu Blue), and Mercy (Ji-young Yoo)—whose lives intersect after a sudden family tragedy. The series interrogates privilege and explores what happens when the line between victimhood and culpability becomes blurred. Brian Tee plays Margaret’s husband Clarke and Jack Huston plays Hilary’s husband David.”


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