Walks of Fame is a monthly column where we profile a famous individual from China (or of Chinese heritage) whom you should know more about. This month, get to know actor, dancer, singer, and fashion designer Van Ness Wu.
Ask a Chinese millennial to name one iconic Taiwanese boy band that took China by storm in the early 2000s. The chances are high that they will mention the now-disbanded Flower Four, aka F4 boy band.
Incredibly, more than 20 years since the band peaked, ex-band member Van Ness Wu is still making waves in the Chinese entertainment industry.
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Born and raised in California, Wu used to work as a telemarketer, believe it or not. This was before he starred as Mei Zuo in the hit Taiwanese drama Meteor Garden in 2001.
Meteor Garden only marked the beginning of Wu’s journey in the entertainment industry — the actor, singer, dancer, and designer seems to have done it all at this point.
We had the pleasure of speaking to the 43-year-old about his journey to becoming a global pop star and his future plans for fans worldwide.
A born performer and a fan of various music genres such as hip hop and R&B, Wu started to dance at the age of 13. He names Michael Jackson and Michael ‘Boogaloo Shrimp’ Chambers (who starred in the 1984 film Breakin’) as stars who sparked his passion for dancing.
Taking in-person dance lessons from Taiwanese pop group L.A. Boyz further ignited Wu’s interest in the entertainment industry. “I would be on the sidelines, learning, and practicing a dance with them,” explains Wu.
According to the pop star, spending time with and learning from other celebrities prepared him for his future on stage: “It was always this frequency that I was on. It was always this wavelength of life that I was around in the environment.”
After turning 22, Wu felt that he was old enough to take care of himself. So he took a leap of faith and left his comfort zone by moving to Taiwan to jumpstart his music career.
“I only had like, 1,200 bucks in one pocket. The other pocket was filled with ambitions and hopes,” shares Wu.
At first, he had a hard time promoting his work. Fortunately, he was scouted on the street and auditioned for Meteor Garden, the aforementioned Taiwanese drama that kick-started his career.
After being cast as Mei Zuo, the heir to a wealthy family, in the hit drama Meteor Garden, Wu became one of China’s most talked-about stars almost overnight. In fact, Meteor Garden was the first-ever idol drama many Chinese Millennials recall watching.
Van Ness Wu (first from left) in a Meteor Garden poster. Image via Weibo
Before leaving for Taiwan, Wu had taken a few acting classes in L.A., but it was during filming for Meteor Garden that he truly developed his skills. “A lot of it was just learning along the way,” says Wu.
“It’s a great feeling to be a part of that history, to feel like something we did was really enjoyed by the audience. When we watch it, it takes us back to a point in our lives, a very staple moment of our own growth in life too.”
The rising star leveraged his newfound fame to launch his music career, releasing his first solo album, Body Will Sing, in 2002. His music debut proved successful — Body Will Sing was ranked as one of the ‘Ten Best Sales Releases, Mandarin’ at the 2002 IFPI Hong Kong Album Sales Award.
Since then, Wu has continued to make waves in the entertainment industry as a singer and an actor. In 2007, Wu released his second album V.DUBB before releasing his third, titled In Between, in 2008.
The following year, in 2009, Wu starred in the popular Taiwanese drama Autumn’s Concerto, gaining further recognition for his acting skills.
Juggling acting and performing might seem challenging for most, but for Wu, both complete him as an artist. He shares, “They [music and acting] gave me a creative outlet. Whenever I did too much film or TV, I wanted to do an album. And when I was doing too many albums, I wanted to do TV.”
Wu’s passion for his profession is unquestionable — he has remained an active figure in the industry for over two decades.
In 2019, the star was cast as a team captain on the dance variety show Street Dance of China — an ideal role for someone with a lifelong passion for dance.
“It’s cool to see and be a part of that culture [dance] that I grew up in, to be a part of that history in California. And then to see it being developed and spread across all ages is really cool,” says Wu with regards to appearing on the dance variety show.
In 2021, Wu then participated in the second season of Shine! Super Brothers, an all-male competition variety show featuring 21 artists from various industries. For Wu, who was competing as part of a boy group, it was like coming full circle since first finding fame with F4 in 2001.
“I enjoyed the show. It was very fun to be able to meet new people who have the same excitement about being on stage,” he shares.
Like many others based in America at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, Wu witnessed a rise in anti-Asian sentiment and hate crimes in 2020.
As someone who grew up in Orange County, California, he had experienced racism from a young age and been at the receiving end of racist slurs at school.
“I was too young to even understand it then. It wasn’t until later on, when I started understanding more and more, did I realize, oh my gosh, they were literally calling me that to my face for no reason,” shares Wu.
In fact, he transferred to a high school in Irvine, California, to be around a bigger Asian American population.
“So that’s why [anti-Asian racism] hits me so much. When Asian hate was growing more and more, it made me feel like I needed to say something,” says Wu.
Today, Wu is doing what he couldn’t as a kid: Using his influence to speak up against injustice. The star frequently addresses anti-Asian hate crimes on his social media accounts.
“If I’m talking about racism, if I’m talking about safety, if I’m talking about health for people, I don’t care what people say. Because I’m not doing anything malicious or mean or putting other people down — I’m making people aware of the conversation,” says Wu.
The 43-year-old has also used fashion design as a platform to further combat racism. In 2020, Wu launched the collection HateIsAVirus x Van Ness Wu in collaboration with streetwear brand Uprisers.
According to an interview with Uprisers, Wu was inspired by artworks from the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, but made his designs relevant to today’s social issues by putting a spin on the Statue of Liberty while addressing anti-Asian racism.
If you think Wu is worn out by the entertainment industry after being part of it for more than 20 years, you’re wrong.
In April 2022, Wu released his brand new English single ‘Chill’ before dropping another song, ‘It’s On,’ this month. Both songs serve to rally his fans and build hype for his upcoming English album that will be released this summer.
“The reason I moved back to Asia to pursue a career in entertainment was for this moment right here,” reads Wu’s caption under an Instagram post about ‘Chill.’ “I shot all these videos never knowing when the release dates were. But it didn’t matter. All that mattered was I was doing it.”
Being a do-er and an established figure in the industry, Wu has also thought about mentoring future generations. And he has a few tips to share:
“I would start by asking, what are you doing all this for? Is it for the money? Is it for fame? What exactly is the goal? Really try to figure that out. It’s gonna take a long time.”
Another golden tidbit of advice from Wu is to stay true to your original inspiration or purpose instead of figuring things out along the way.
While many stars find it hard to hold on to their overnight fame, Wu has succeeded in being seen as a beloved character for over two decades. His secret? We would argue that it is his passion for his career, unwavering curiosity, and staying true to himself.
Cover image via Van Ness Wu
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