For many people outside of the San Gabriel Valley, their introduction to the “626” comes through YouTube. This is in large part thanks to Wong Fu Productions and the Fung Brothers, video producers who use the SGV as a prominent backdrop in their viral hits. Both parties sat down with us to talk about how the 626 has influenced both their work and frame of mind.
Wong Fu Productions
A trio of friends at UC San Diego started shooting videos for kicks in 2003. YouTube wasn't in existence yet. The term "viral hit" had not yet been coined. Three years later they moved their business to Alhambra and began to build a media sensation with more than 2.3 million subscribers on YouTube.
Wong Fu Productions is led by Philip Wang, Wesley Chan, and Ted Fu, all of whom are originally from the Bay Area. While in the San Gabriel Valley they've amassed an impressive portfolio of video sensations
—most of which offer witty (and often emotionally rich) mediations on relationships and human nature. Now the company, which relocated to Pasadena, has taken the next step by shooting its first feature length film, which is slated to debut summer of 2015. The film is still waiting on a title and a firm release date.
Philip and Wesley sat down with the Alhambra Source to discuss their new film, how they deal with critics, and how YouTube has changed since its early days.
Why did you choose to move to the San Gabriel Valley as opposed to another place like Hollywood?
Wesley: After we graduated we never went back home. Los Angeles is so big that finding out where to situate ourselves was tough. Phil had been to the San Gabriel Valley and he suggested the 626 area because it was a nice transition. It’s not like diving into Hollywood or the West Side. It’s a little more modest. It has all the resources we need and there’s a sense of familiarity because of the Asian American demographic here...The lifestyle is very nice. The food is good—it’s affordable. There are a lot of businesses and locations that we’ve used for our productions. We shot a good amount at Nucleus and we’re friends with Ben, the owner there.
Philip: We’ve also done a lot of events at the local high schools. Alhambra High School was one of the first high schools that we went to. We’ve been to Mark Keppel. We’ve had something at San Gabriel. We know there are a lot of kids out here who watch Youtube and are very proud to see us shoot around the area. We’re really grateful for the young people supporting us.
What’s attractive about Youtube? As Wong Fu grows do you see yourself to continue producing for YouTube?
Philip: I think YouTube is a great medium for independent artists and creators to share their work because they’re in full control of what they want to make and how they want to release it. We’ve been doing this for many years, but in the past few it’s been harder to stand out because so many people are using it now. We definitely keep our mind open to other opportunities. We all see Youtube as a great way to stay connected with the fans but we’re using it as a tool, as a community to grow something bigger.
Four years after Wong Fu landed in Alhambra, in 2010, two brothers from Seattle created a minor internet viral sensation when their hip hop ode to San Gabriel Valley eats, "JJ Hong Kong Cafe," got more than 50,000 views. At the time, Andrew Fung told the Los Angeles Times food blog, "The song doesn't do the SGV complete justice because there are tons of places missing, but it's safe to say I will be coming back very very soon."
Andrew kept his word — he and his brother David are proud new residents of the San Gabriel Valley. And this time their more extensive tribute to local restaurants, "626" named after the area's zip code, has gotten nearly 200,000 hits.
You both grew up in Seattle. How did you end up making a video about the SGV?
Growing up we were huge hip-hop heads/nerds and we would always see rappers making songs repping Brooklyn, Chicago, LA, wherever they were from. It's basically a glorification of where you're from or the life you live. As kids we would come visit our cousin in Monterey Park and experience this unique Asian American fusion lifestyle. After we graduated from college we came down and spent a few months with him, living the SGV lifestyle (boba shops, cafes, public parks, etc.) and decided to make the move down to SoCal. Coming from Seattle, life in the 626 seemed so unique and special to us because we didn't grow up around it. So we just wanted to make an anthem/ode to the lifestyle that we love and we know so many others do as well.
What did you want to show with this video?
We wanted to show how cool and special the 626 can be, especially for food. It's the most densely Asian part of the US (and specifically Chinese) so I think the culture in the 626 is really unique and incredible. Hopefully local people got a visual/audio representation of how cool and distinct where they live really is, and for those outside the 626 to see how cool it is as well.