The last time they were in Hong Kong, two filmmakers from Wong Fu Productions got “pop-star style” hair cuts and ate McCurry burgers at McDonald’s.
The two Chinese American YouTube stars embraced the local culture for what it was – a mixture of flash and culture.
Wesley Chan and Philip Wang, who founded their film company in California with a third member, Ted Fu, said their roots were here in Asia. That’s part of the reason they keep coming back.
“My Chinese side feels like Hong Kong, and Phil and Ted are from Taiwan,” said Chan in a recent interview.
Wong Fu Productions’ primary fan base is in North America, but it has been gaining steady popularity in Asia. Its YouTube channel has more than 1.7 million subscribers since it was launched in 2007, and the team is looking to expand here.
They visited Hong Kong in April and have since started a microblogging account on Sina Weibo, with the full intention of engaging a Chinese audience.
Their Weibo posts are a mix of Chinese and English. One post highlights a recent video in which Mando-pop singer Leehom Wang, who is also Asian American, is a guest star.
Chan said the cross-cultural efforts have worked for the most part.
“We made some shorts in Asia, in [Putonghua] and Cantonese, and these seem to resonate pretty well with the locals,” said Chan. “Because sometimes, they tell us, it takes someone from outside their environment to see things they don’t usually see.”
Language is a potential barrier, though.
“If our fans are English-speaking, then they are more interactive,” said Chan, who does speak Cantonese.
Wang added: “Most of our fans understand some English, at least, so the humour and relatability still exist. The fans out here are great.”
Despite plans to expand in Asia, they currently do not have the resources to do so beyond the occasional visit, adding subtitles to their work and using Chinese social media.
“We want to focus on North America first, and if we grow to the point where we can expand to have an Asian branch, that would be a nice move for us,” said Chan. “Our current connection is to Asian Americans.”
Mostly, they’re glad to be able to do what they love, and to inspire other Asians to think “beyond the box”.
Social media has “opened the eyes of a lot of people who otherwise would never have gotten the chance to see people who look like them, or have similar backgrounds or upbringing”, said Chan.
“Growing up, all I had for Asian role models were Jackie Chan, Jet Li and [tennis player] Michael Chan, and that’s all we ever saw in the media. I think now it’s amazing Asian kids around the world can go on YouTube and see so many people who are dancing, singing and making films, and writing great stories or articles... and realising, hey, there’s a lot of possibility out there for me when I grow up.”
When asked what their next venture would be, Wang said: “We’re working on a feature film... We’re just trying to keep up, and trying to keep creating content.”
“It’s an exciting time to be Asian,” Chan added, “with more opportunities than ever.”