Can’t go ‘wong’ with videos about Asian-American culture, identity from Wong Fu Productions

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Founded in 2003, Wong Fu Productions has posted several of its video shorts about Asian-American culture and identity for viewing on its featured works page.

Anthony Keem

With such little Asian representation in today’s Hollywood media, Wong Fu Productions has provided a unique perspective that continually explores the nuances and the richness of the culture Asian Americans bring with them.

By creating everything from short films to original series, the 17-year-old, Pasadena-based company explores such subjects such as identity racism, and love through the lense of everyday settings.

Episodic series like “Yappie” and “Just Another Nice Guy” are prime examples of the best of Wong Fu, while the little bit over 10-minute “After Us” and the little bit over six-minute “Shell” are some of the weaker entries.

One of the more recent video shorts, “Stop Spreading My Login!” was released on tax day, April 15, but it remains more average than stellar.

Two of the foundations of Wong Fu content are the evolution and examination of Asian-American identity, and the Season 1, five-episode comedy-drama, “Yappie,” does exactly that. The web series takes on the challenges of defining what it means to be more culturally aware of this identity. 

Created by Philip Wang — one of the stalwarts of Wong Fu Productions — “Yappie” follows the perspective of Andrew (Wang, “Single By 30”) after being called a yappie, a yuppie,-like young Asian professional. This sets into motion his exploration of what it means to be an Asian American.

Struggles such as inter-racial dating in a traditionalist culture, not being “not Asian enough” and being forced into a box because of a stereotype are all addressed as Andrew wrestles with the new Asian reality he had not seen before. 

The free episodes on YouTube are able to strongly convey the growth of Andrew in his search for self-acceptance and coming to terms with his heritage.

The acting is done in such a way that the audience will find Andrew as a possible insert for a person in real life. The portrayal of his emotions as he progresses through the various stages of accepting and integrating his cultural identity is very organic. 

Though the central character is Andrew, viewers also get some clever interactions among his four other cast members. As they munch away at Asian restaurants, at times their conversations remind viewers of “Friends,” another ensemble of a mixture of guys and gals.

Overall, “Yappie” is an exceptional introduction into the works of Wong Fu productions because of the high caliber acting, well developed protagonist and smooth progression of plot. 

While the content would be most relatable to adults, the series is nevertheless an interesting examination of the Asian-American identity for high school students to consider checking out.

It would be recommended that those sensitive to explicit language, references to alcohol and mild sexual themes view the series with caution.

“Just Another Nice Guy” is another great starter in understanding the works of Wong Fu Productions. 

While not following the themes of “Yappie” as strongly, “Just Another Nice Guy” arguably still explores the stereotype of Asian men being timid and in line with the image of the “model minority.”

Moreover, general thematic elements like learning to be introspective and personal growth are exercised more heavily.

The slice of life series released three years ago follows Derek (Motoki Maxted, “Anime Crimes Division”), who has been regarded as a nice guy all his life and is once again rejected by his crush. This leads him in a rejection of identity, which accumulates in increasingly damaging social disasters. 

The continuous fallouts drive him to better understand himself and the feeling of those around him. 

The more than 40-minute long, three-part YouTube series deserves heavy praise for the protagonist, Derek, who acts in such a way that the audience is truly able to become immersed and engaged in his interactions. Kudos also goes to Wang, who writes and directs here.

The subtle body language, masterful changes in inflection and raw talent of Maxted is able to bring the character of Derek to life. His dynamic development from misguided and woeful to learning how to cope with his emotions and with unrequited love is beautifully constructed.

Unfortunately, the secondary characters in the series are considerably weaker when compared to Maxted’s performance; the performances are not poor by any means, but rather they are lacking the emotional impact that Derek as a character leaves behind. 

While the secondary characters seem more like an accessory to moving the plot forward, it can be overlooked by the fact that perhaps this is more by design than as a flaw. 

The series seems to target a young adult, college demographic but is enjoyable to watch for teenagers as well. The content itself is mostly mild with references to alcohol use.

Despite such heavy hitters like “Yappie” and “Just Another Nice Guy,” Wong Fu Productions also has its fair share of average and weaker works as well.

One of the more recent entries released on April 15 is “Stop Spreading My Login!”, a single entry comedy short featuring Wang and guests ranging from Anna Akana (“Ant-Man”) and Simu Liu (“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”). With a little over an 11-minute run time, the skit follows Wang as he attempts to regain access to his Netflix account after being unable to access it at his home because so many people are using it during the COVID-19 quarantine. 

The search for who has passed on his Netflix password escalates as he calls people all over the world in vain.

Comedically, having a streaming site password leaked unknowingly to many people is not a new concept, which makes the short rather predictable. The acting is not bad, and with the skit being chock full of cameos from notable actors, it certainly makes for a more interesting watch. 

The comedic attempts aren’t anything laugh out loud funny; rather, it evokes a knowing smile of relatability. The lighthearted nature lends it some charm, especially because it is set during the coronavirus crisis and deals with the more subtle difficulties of needing entertainment while staying at home. 

Poorer entries of Wong Fu Productions which are not recommended for initial viewing are the shorts “After Us” and “Shell.”

While dramatic flair is appropriate for conveying the tones of heartbreak and sorrow, it can be very much overdone, and such is the case of the short film “After Us,” which follows the story of a nameless woman (Victoria Park, “The Flash”) trying to recover from heartbreak after experiencing an unexpected breakup. 

What follows is an offensively stereotypical and corny montage of events that happen as she gradually moves on with her life.

The way the motif of moving on is portrayed within the video short is extremely bland and predictable. 

As expected of breakup tropes like the woman being absolutely traumatized by a breakup, the nameless woman falls into a catatonic state of loneliness and desires to text her ex back, followed by weeping and eating ice cream and finally the growing will to recover and take her life back.

All this is accompanied by platitudinous narration, which makes this short seem satirical or just bordering on offensively stereotypical.

On the opposite spectrum of the problems “After Us” has is “Shell.” Instead of being bland, it is pretentious.

The plot follows an unnamed man (Chris Dinh, “Parker and the Crew”) and woman (Mimi Chao, “To Those Nights”) who explore the concept of being able to live out memories that never happened.

It is not so much that the concept is inadequate, as using elements of dystopian sci-fi to play out thought experiments can be entertaining, but rather the overuse of melodrama that masks the potential of exploring the question of what is real.

The use of character discussion at the beginning as to whether to indulge in a fake memory is a good start, but the effort is ultimately muddled by the high octane emotion displayed by the two characters for each other.

Those looking for more Asian American-centric content while still maintaining traditional elements of Western media will certainly find the works of Wong Fu Productions to be surprisingly delightful. The humanistic and slice of life elements found in almost every skit, short and series lend it an endearing quality. 

Overall, Wong Fu Productions has a video library that offers more noteworthy options than time wasters and is definitely worth visiting at wongfuproductions.com/works.