By Charles Lam
Northwest Asian Weekly
Let me start off by saying that I’ve been a WongFu fan since YouTube and Google Video were direct competitors. In high school, I braved Bay Area public transit to catch a showing of their first feature-length film, “A Moment with You.” Their work spoke to me. I was an Asian teenager inflicted with nice guy syndrome, and I was completely taken with the way they communicated my friend’s and my emotions.
That was six years ago.
Today, WongFu Productions is still going strong, ranking in the top 100 YouTube channels, and works with some of the biggest names online and otherwise, including Harry Shum Jr. and Far East Movement.
They’ve stewarded and continue to forward the popular Asian Pacific American identity.
Unfortunately, their dramatic work hasn’t grown at the pace of their fandom.
Don’t get me wrong. Their comedy canon is as strong as it’s ever been. Their timing and writing is sharper now than ever, and their humor has evolved beyond things that would appeal to solely high schoolers. But their dramatic work still needs to grow.
Take their latest video, “The Last,” starring Glee’s Harry Shum Jr.
When they released the teaser, the fans were ecstatic. This excitement followed through to the release of the video, which currently sits at nearly 3 million views with around 90,000 likes to 900 dislikes. But despite obvious popularity and mainstream approval, there are obvious weaknesses.
First of all, the acting is weak.
Shum delivers his lines robotically, as if prompted by a metronome. His pauses are abrupt and his emotional touches only serve to make the script sound less emotional. His few moments in motion on camera are jerky and unnatural, more cold and calculating than reassuring.
The blame shouldn’t be placed solely on him, however. His lines only come off as awkward because they are written awkwardly.
The script sounds like a first draft. As emotional as it may be, and as beautiful as the long, flowing exposition might have seemed written down, it was obviously meant to be read and not spoken.
Complicated, multi-part sentences went on far too long, and words were spoken next to each other when they normally wouldn’t be. Most of the awkward delivery wasn’t Shum’s fault. Rather it was the result of an inflexible script that seemed like it was designed to pack as much description per sentence as possible, and didn’t flow off the tongue.
This is not to say that WongFu has failed.
The video was still good. People cried (I admit that I teared up), people smiled, and people loved it. It showed off the group’s command of the camera, their much much much improved sound engineering, and their perfect music selection — but it was still only good. Not amazing, not great. Just good.
I expect WongFu to get better because they have always gotten better. They went from a short about Yellow Fever that relied heavily on accents and easy jokes to providing humor to a million-subscriber channel and possibly defining the adolescence of many Asian Americans.
But, as their audience gets older and more mature, their skills, too, must grow. Though “The Last” might not be their best, I’m okay with that because it is definitely not their last. (end)
Charles Lam can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.