PHILIP Wang and Wesley Chan, both 30, make up two thirds of renowned YouTubers Wong Fu Productions. With their 1 million subscribers and over 200 million views, the boys are best known for their popular online short films and music videos. They flew in from the US for a quick event a fortnight ago and took the time to chat with R.AGE about their upcoming movie, their views on fame and their business.
R.AGE: Tell us about your upcoming movie! Let’s start with what it’s called.
Philip Wang: It (the movie title) isn’t even out there yet because we have not officially decided what it is so we’ve just been calling it the Wong Fu Movie. It’s about a world where everyone’s relationship history and activity is kind of documented and monitored at the Department of Emotional Integrity – kind of like the (American) Department of Motor Vehicles – so instead of registering your car, you have to register your relationship. So everyone gets like a credit score and people can judge other people, like when you meet someone or when you’re dating you can ask them “What’s your history? What’s your score?” and you can decide if you like them or not based on that. So it’s about two couples within this world and how they’re getting through everything.
R: So who came up with the idea for that?
PW: It was collective effort. Wes was saying like, “I think the last time we were in Southeast Asia was when we kind of came up with that idea”.
R: Is it done?
Wesley Chan: It’s not done.
PW: We finished shooting it in July and now we’re editing so we’re hoping to release during the middle of next year.
R: How would you classify its genre?
WC: I think the idea sounds science fiction, but it’s more like a drama with elements of comedy. It’s more of a drama for sure.
PW: It’s like (the movies) Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and 500 Days of Summer kind of mixed together. If people know our work, it’s still very much in line with the feelings and tones of our regular stuff.
R: I was actually going to ask you about your work. Over the years, your skits have been either really funny or really emotional – are you guys generally sappy inside?
WC: Um, no? I don’t think so.
PW: I might be.
WC: I think there’s “emotional” and then there’s “sappy” and I think we try to find the place in between. The thing is, different people have different thresholds of what’s sappy and what’s not. So to answer your question, maybe (we are sappy) because some people might say “Oh you guys are way too emotional,” but other people might be just as sappy as us.
PW: I feel like most of the world is (sappy) and they just don’t allow themselves to be’. I think everyone is very emotional but they just have different filters of if they want to show it or not and why. I think a lot of what works (in terms of content) is what taps into situations or emotions that generally everyone kind of feels and I think maybe that’s why people like to watch our videos. But I think, just as guys living everyday lives, I think we do probably think about it (feelings) more often than not or more than the average guy possibly would like to admit. Although I’m glad that our work can still mean something to a lot of people out there, because that’s ultimately what we’re trying to do.
R: Since your lives affect the work you do, how has the work you’ve done affected your lives? Haven the people you know personally, who have influenced and seen your videos, asked you about them?
WC: They have. I think, for sure, more you (points to Wang) than me.
PC: I think art imitates, life imitates art – so I guess a lot of the things I go through come through (in our videos). It’s never like really backfired but I’ve definitely met people that have seen work and they’re like “Okay so how much of this is still around?” or they just know that I think about those things so they’re sensitive to that because they’re aware of it, but it’s never been like “Oh my gosh, you said it in a video! Don’t say that to me now!” I don’t live my life like the videos – they’re still fictional.
R: Back to your movie – are there people in it that your fans will be excited to see?
PW: I think the most recent development is Ki Hong Lee (known best for his role in the movie The Maze Runner and is ranked #4 in People Magazine’s 2014 Sexiest Men Alive). It’s a funny story – we were at University of California, Berkeley doing a talk in 2008 and he was still in school and he raised his hand during the Q and A, just like at the events that we do here (in Kuala Lumpur) and asked, “How do I get to be in one of your videos?” and we said, “Just email us and we’ll see”, and then he graduated and apparently he emailed us several years later and we didn’t see it. Then a year after that, we saw him in a play and I reached out to him cause he was really good and we started working together. It’s great to see his success recently with the movie because he’s been working really hard. We also have a few established or working actors like Aaron Yoo who’s been in several major films like Disturbia (with Shia LeBeouf) and 21. There’s also another guy named Brandon Soo Hoo (who has starred in the film Tropic Thunder). These are all Asian-American actors and we definitely made it a conscious choice to support Asian-American actors for this film because there is very little representation of us out there.
R: On that note, what are your thoughts on fame and what are you perceptions of yourselves in that sense?
WC: I think it’s relative.
PW: Sometimes it’s awkward to think (about it). We were flown out here and we’re being interviewed and when we’re in it, it’s like, (surreal to think that) this is our job. Sometimes I would read a comment and (it would occur to me that) this video has literally changed someone’s life or this that this generation of young people is consuming our work the same way I consumed and viewed someone else when I was growing up and it’s crazy to think that that. I think ultimately it’s very humbling because this was never something that we asked for or that we had sat out to do. Maybe that’s why we come off as more grounded, I guess, but like, we just want to do a good job and we feel very grateful for the position we’re in and we just hope we don’t screw it up at this point. We just want to keep it going and we know we’re very lucky because a lot of people do want to be in this position and we just don’t want to waste it. Sometimes it feels really good like when you’re flying over the sea and are placed in a nice hotel but then again, some people have no idea who we are so (then we think) something’s wrong. Like, should we be getting all these fans?
WC: That’s why I said it’s relative. In the previous interview that we did, someone asked who we want to work for or which celebrity we want to work with and we still feel like we can’t have these ideas of working for someone like Robert Downey Jr. because he’s on a different level. But then there are people saying that about us so the perception is really kind of thrown all over the place. One minute you’re being asked for an autograph and the next minute, you’re at the grocery story being asked to sign a credit card bill and these two things mean different things or have two different values to different people.
R: Don’t worry, I’m not going to ask for your autograph.
PW: Why not! (laughs)
R: Is it safe to say you’re not a full-fledged production house? You’ve done videos for Lee Hom and you’re making your own movie and you guys are actors in yourselves and it’s all a mix of everything, but how much of your focus is on the business side of things?
PW: It’s all the time. I think we left the “oh we’re just doing this for fun” phase a while ago. Once we were making a living off of it – no, actually, once were we were responsible for other people’s livelihoods, then we were like, “Okay, it’s different now”.
R: How many people do you have working for you?
PW: Right now we only have three employees and two of them are part-time, so we’re still very lean.
WC: When you say “full-fledge” it’s very hard because part of me wants to say “No, we’re not full-fledge,” but we are doing bigger projects and more important projects but the size of the company hasn’t really grown.
R: So it’s like a start-up?
PW: Yeah! That’s what we always compare to. We’ve made it out of the garage and now we’re in our third office. Same thing – it’s relative. To some people it’s like, “You guys have an office. You guys have a company credit card. You guys are legit!” but I think the more you strive for, the more you want or like, the more kind of in your place you feel. When we want to do (bigger projects) now we sometimes feel like we’re not quite there yet. So yes, by all means, we definitely are a full-on production house. We’re taking meetings and pitches all the time. There are deals coming in and out – we say no to most, we say yes to some. We still do our own personal projects. But then, we’re not (on that level where we’re) making Star Wars.
WC: The job that we have is to take those deals and decide which sponsored projects we want do, but he challenge is to make the viewers not notice it. I think that’s our job. Because to them (the viewers), we want to just keep producing as if nothing has changed but on our end, of course, we want make the choices that are best for the company.