Why I Don't Like Wong Fu

Wong Fu is an indie video production company started by students at UCSD. Actually, they do a bit of everything these days, from music videos to vlogs, and they’ve helped a lot of aspiring artists get a little more traction. They’re pretty awesome.

But…I never got into their videos. Why? It all goes back to their first big hit. “Yellow Fever” is a humorous take on the stereotype that white guys like to date (East) Asian girls and vice versa, presumably to the detriment of Asian-American guys, white girls, and Indian guys. The stereotype definitely has a basis in truth, although I’m glad to say it isn’t an absolute rule and I know several exceptions.

The movie bothered me, though. Part of that was the usual discomfort when someone puts their finger on something that’s politically incorrect but true nonetheless. But another part of it was my now-familiar problem with sides. It felt like there was all this segregation going on, that there were such clearly delineated groups of “white” and “Asian”, no, “white vs. Asian”. It is stupid that white guys get congratulated if they can manage to say “nǐ hǎo” with a minimum of mangling, while eloquent Mandarin-accented English is still looked down upon. But the idea of “white guys taking our girls” implies that Asian-Americans are “supposed” to date Asian-Americans and white Americans are “supposed” to date white Americans. Plus it’s sexist. Not to mention “maybe I can get a girl…maybe even a white girl”. I mean, what is this?1

Of course, stealing your roommate’s girlfriend/boyfriend is wrong no matter what. So…

I want to say again that I don’t actually dislike Wong Fu; I think it’s great that independent film groups exist and that this group in particular has had so much success at capturing the feeling of my generation and my culture. They’ve done lots of great stuff—some race-related, some not. And “When Five Fell” is one of the most beautiful short films I’ve seen. So this little quirk is just a tic…not anything against them personally, just a personal distaste for the first movie (and a wish for a different world) that’s unfortunately tainted my view of the group and kept me from following them or their work particularly closely.

But it came up again fairly recently. Chester See, KevJumba, and Ryan Higa made a song called “Nice Guys” (also an alternate video). It’s unapologetically sexist (satirically)—the characters are trying to be “bad guys” because they think that’s what their dates will like. Instead they’re just “bad boyfriends”.

I thought it was great, and the track itself is a quite catchy four-chord song. Their producer’s making-of video was a lot of fun, and the video was well-made. I was somewhat obsessed for about a week or two.

But…about a month later I realized something. Chester sang the choruses and bridge, and Ryan and Kevin sang, er, rapped the verses. In the video, though, they’re fairly free about switching whose mouth is moving for each part—in particular, the story works better having Ryan and Kevin singing the repentant bridge and Chester consistently being the jerk.

So right now, the video has two Asian-American “nice guys” and one white jerk.

And it could have almost just as easily been one-and-one nice guys and one jerk.

This certainly isn’t racism on a large scale—to paraphrase the book I, Jedi, on a scale of 1 to infinity, it probably doesn’t even rate a decimal point. Kevin is of Chinese descent, while Ryan is Japanese (and both are American anyway), so saying it’s “Asians vs. whites” is already fairly stupid. And the setup really is natural for the video: if you start with “Ryan and Kevin are on screen for their parts”, then the rest of it pretty much falls out naturally. (Though I feel a little bad that Chester doesn’t exactly get credit for his singing.) If I were directing this video (say, for Theatre Rice), this is probably how I would have done it, too.2

They did everything right—no emphasis on the ethnicities of Kevin and Ryan vs. Chester, a multi-ethnic “How to Hit on Girls” class, etc. They even had a female student in the class. But…

…well, in the future, when you have a mixed group of actors and ethnicity is not part of the story, please try to divide them not along macro-ethnic lines.

EDIT: my friend Stephanie pointed out that Chester See is half-Filipino, half-white, making my criticism of “Nice Guys” even less valid.

  1. To be fair, this was not an official video and not concerned about image…when your scope is smaller, you can forgive small “political incorrectnesses” (or possibly “colonialism”) in favor of comedy. This was very early in the existence of Wong Fu. But “Poser!”, two years later, also has this division of “Asian, black, white”, though they’re mostly all treated equally. (“Separate but equal”…?) ↩︎

  2. And of course, if ethnicity really didn’t matter, then there’d be nothing wrong with the situation at all. ↩︎