Wong Fu Productions (Philip Wang, Ted Fu, and Wesley Chan) is no stranger to Malaysians, especially for the local YouTube scene. A lot of people knew them through “Strangers Again” or “Yellow Fever”, the videos that went ridiculously viral. The filmmaking group has made so many great videos, from short films to travelogues to the iconic Wong Fu Weekends videos, that it’s hard to pick a favourite.
To date, Wong Fu Productions’ YouTube channel has garnered over 2 million subscribers and over 344 million video views because of their loving and loyal fans who’ve been following them since the very beginning. In 2012, Wong Fu Productions met their fans around the world in person, with Phil and Wes taking a 12-hour flight from Los Angeles to Malaysia for the first leg of their Southeast Asia Tour. In 2013, the two made another trip to Malaysia to help build houses in the rural areas of Sarawak.
More recently, the 2 made a triumphant return to Malaysia through #OHHSOME Fest to celebrate the glory of social media in Malaysia with both local and international YouTubers.
The festival is the first of its kind in Malaysia and the team is made up of social media activists, social media agencies, and also homegrown brands that have all been a part of the growth of the social media scene in Malaysia. Its also a joint collaboration between key pioneers behind Malaysia’s emerging social media community and Hotlink.
Phil: It was a lot of work, we were working on that for almost 2 years but the shooting is only 25 days. For the first time, we had a really large team, which is still very small as compared to the Hollywood movies but still very independent for us. I feel like we make so many shorts on a regular basis that it was kind of like a training to make the feature film. It’s just like doing the same thing but for more days but it was really a good experience.
Wes: I think the first time we thought of the idea and wrote it down, it was actually in Malaysia.
Phil: Yeah, I think we were flying here.
Wes: So, in Philippines maybe? I don’t know but we wrote down the idea when we were in Southeast Asia countries. For the film, it’s the same in many ways because we have so many shorts in the last 2 years, just on a bigger scale and longer snap time.
What inspired you to shoot your first ever feature film? Tell us about the thought process behind it.
Phil: I think, with what we do on YouTube or anyone who create short stories on YouTube, everyone wants to try something longer. We’ve always enjoyed telling stories in longer form of narrative. We are not like the typical channel that just does one or two-minute quick videos because we love telling stories. But we’ve been doing that for a long time so we wanna challenge ourselves to see if we could do something longer. I think the feature film is what everyone kind of just measured by. We actually tried to do it before in 2008 but that time it wasn’t really right. So this time around, the timing just feels right and we just wanted to see if we could do it. Also, for the fans too, they’ve been following us for many years and I think they are ready to see what the Wong Fu movie would look like.
Every director has different filming style and I’ve seen a lot of videos produced by you guys. I noticed that Wes tends to put some sci-fi elements in the videos. How would you define your filming style?
Wes: I think the science fiction element in our videos is relatively new. I think we both have interests in other genre and we like going to watch the big, epic movies. Even though we are filmmakers too, sometimes it’s hard to grasp if we can do that because of our resources. I think recently we wanted to challenge ourselves and I think for me, I like the kind of story that is familiar but framed in different way. So, I guess, just recently, it’s been framed in science fictional. If I were to describe myself, I am cinematographer-director who is more visual-based with less dialogue. Not that I don’t like it, it’s just that I am comfortable of creating the visuals.
Phil: I think, for Wong Fu’s works, we are trying to be authentic with our work. You know, we try to show the drama and the comedy in everyday lives. I guess, personally that’s where I draw my inspiration from because I like to do a lot of stories that are very real and situational with places we’ve all been to. I like to capture those moments and just be very honest with them, with things that people can relate to, whether it’s in actions or words.
Any interesting moments to share with us when you guys were working on the film?
Phil (to Wes): We should get together and think of those because people are going to ask more and more about this! Haha!
Wes: Well, yeah, it is the biggest project that we’ve ever done but we are also very responsible for this. For example, we built part of the set in our office because there is a scene that requires something like an interrogation room. So, we built this room and we shot all the stuff in that scene. To get everything out, we painted and dressed it up again to use it again as a college dorm room. So, for stuff like that, it was new to us but also, it made a lot of sense for us to save money. It was really fun because it actually felt like a movie set. Initially, we just go to a friend’s place or contact the business owners and ask them to give us the permit to use the location but now, we’re actually building our own so it’s a lot of fun. The very last day of our shoot was kinda random we boarded the train just to shoot this one scene without much dialogue. We have to take the train because the scene was happening in a train. We ended up in a middle of nowhere with our movie done. I wouldn’t say it’s very anti-climatic but it’s just a fitting way to end our movie.
Phil: I think, one of the things we found a lot of fun in our movies is getting to include some of our friends that we’ve made over the years. Some of the actors are new too and it was our first time to work with them but it was a lot of fun bringing in some Wong Fu family so I think it’s a lot of fun for fans to see some familiar faces in the film.
Phil: It’s great. I remembered when he first told us that he was going out and waiting to hear back for the role, he was so nervous because he thought that there is no chance. It really does show you that anything can happen and he definitely worked very hard because he stayed very driven forward. If this part didn’t come along, he will still be acting and going for these roles. It just feels great to see good people like him to get their break. It’s also knowing that that Wong Fu was part of the journey because when we first met him, he was kind of just starting out in LA as an actor. We got to support him by putting him in a lot of our projects and opening him up to other YouTubers. We are glad that what we are doing are helping the rest of the community as well. What we are doing is beyond “just us”.
Wes: He has the coolest part in the movie too. You saw it? I think he has the coolest part in the movie and I am so proud of him. I think, we are professionally as a fan, it all applies that we are fanboys too.
Phil: I think also in the States, having an Asian in that role is actually kind of a big deal and so we are extra proud of him.
Which celebrity would you guys like to collaborate with & what kind of video would you want to make with them?
Phil: Hmm, I don’t know. There’s a lot of people.
Wes: Umm…Robert Downey Jr.?
Phil: Taylor Swift!
Wes: We get that question a lot but we didn’t really think about it because it does seems out of reach. Whatever it comes, it will come eventually.
What is your favourite video that you made, the one that means the most to you?
Phil: Yeah, we always joked about that the question is like asking for a favourite child but I guess it’s the kind of question which is important to us, or unique about it. I would say that, it’s not really a video but the feature film is something that we are really proud of. It’s kind of crazy to think that we’ve already done the shooting but we still haven’t presented it yet. No one have seen it and we are excited that all of next year will be kind of about this film that we finally get to share with people. So, it really feels like another level or another step for us so that’s kind of our favourite.
What is the most frustrating moment while producing the videos?
Wes: Running out of time is a constant thing. No matter how much you planned, things come out unexpectedly and sometimes it’s bad things like the weather or the location is too noisy. Those are the bad things but when you get there, you get inspired with more ideas. It’s just that you don’t have time to get everything so you don’t get to pick or choose. I think, as a creative person, having to decide what to let go and what we can actually do is a big challenge.
Phil: I think also, this is an actual film from a video production on YouTube. The way that we are sharing our videos is constantly changing but the landscapes of the tablet content out there is kinda frustrating to us because we know that what type of videos get watched the most but we don’t wanna make those kind of videos. So, sometimes it’s tough because we need to stand up for what we really enjoyed making but maybe what people don’t want to watch or what’s not popular. I would definitely say that, even though we have some level of popularity, we could be trying a little more harder in that sense. So, I guess that’s why it’s kinda frustrating to know that those are the things we could be doing but we don’t.
Where do you guys go from here? What’s the next step after the movie?
Phil: What’s next after the movie is hopefully another movie, and another movie. We actually are kinda talking/planning about the next one already. We actually thought about making a longer series because right now, a lot of different studios want to create web series or long form content online. We are very fortunate that we get to keep our place in a plain field and we’ve been pitching for different series. We had some really good and successful web series before but that was 4 years ago and we kinda never revisited it. So we wanna get back to that because we really enjoyed it when fans come back every week just to see how the story grows. So yeah, we wanna get back to that and tell more stories in different ways.
For more information and more timely updates on Wong Fu Productions’ feature film, stalk them here.