BEFORE THE PREVALENCE of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and various other social media platforms, celebrity profiles in print publications regulated by those in charge or boards of directors were the only way we the masses could get to know our favourite celebrity. In the present day, the ease and convenience of social media allows the celebrity to be a publisher in their own right, to show the world an image of themselves that they have created. This in addition (or as opposed) to the media’s representation of them—a fine line to tread.
The Instagram bio of Taiwanese actor Sunny Wang (@sunnyboyy) reads [at the time of writing] “Husband, Actor, Athlete, Free Diver, Conservationist, The Sundizz Show, Car & Watch Collector, Empire Entertainment, Empire Motor Club”—it’s everything he’s passionate about and he’s using social media to show the world just that. When asked if he is a self-censored person, he says, “Yeah I am. I think nowadays it can be very sensitive, there are certain things you just can and can’t do. So, I rather keep a low profile, I don’t want to be on the radar at all times. If people catch on to what I’m doing, they catch on. But I would prefer not to be in the limelight because then you’re always under a big microscope.” When the Esquire Malaysia team met Wang in Taipei, the affable actor began the conversation by recounting the last time he was in Malaysia having Cantonese food. At 1.88m tall with high cheekbones and a sharp jawline, he is very easy on the eyes, greeting everyone with a charming smile. Wang was born in New York but spent his early years in Taipei, before moving back to the Big Apple to study at New York University’s Stern School of Business and Tisch School of the Arts.
Shearling aviator jacket & hybrid urban hiker by Coach X MBJ; Jeans by Coach T-shirt, stylist's own.
Today, despite multiple filming projects across China and Hong Kong, Wang is based back home in Taiwan, and he’s staying put—for now, at least. “It’s where I grew up. We have the mountains, the oceans, good diving spots and I have a good support system here. I don’t really see anywhere else that’s home.” At 37 years old this year, what exactly is Wang up to? “I’m at the point in life where I know what I want. It’s not really about the fame or money anymore. Before, yes it was—it was all ‘I want to do this show’ and ‘I wish I could do that role’. But now it’s not all about pursuing goals for my own self; it’s more ‘life is like this’ thinking. Now I’m more laidback; I plan more.” And what is it that he plans? His Instagram bio includes words like “conservationist” and his own ventures Empire Entertainment and Empire Motor Club. Empire Entertainment was started by Wang together with his wife, singer-songwriter Dominique Choy (who goes by stage name Dizzy Dizzo. Fun fact: Wang also calls his wife Dizzy in daily conversation; we think that’s very cute) and best friend Ryan; Empire Entertainment manages Wang and Dizzy themselves as artists too. Also under the same umbrella are Empire Aqua (their work on ocean conservation) and Empire Motor Club— vlogs about cars and behind-the-scene views of Wang’s own car modifications; he refers to it as “what the boys like doing but Dizzy joins in”. On why he started his own company, Wang says “It’s a good process where I’m in control of my own destiny and of what I want to do, as well as figuring out different styles. I feel it’s better for me at least. I can’t say for other people because I’m very controlling, so I need to be in control. My team needs to know what I like, but they push [their own opinions] too.”
Wang isn’t looking to influence for the sake of influencing; what he’s doing is sharing an opinion, sending out a plea, offering encouragement”
Wang dedicates a lot of time to ocean conservation through Empire Aqua that organises beach clean-ups, talks and more. “When you have influence, I feel that it can help make the world a better place when you do something good. I believe in a balance in the world; I don’t want to say karma but look at the world today, maybe we humans have been taking too much from the planet. We’re causing pollution, we’re causing climate change, and we’re also causing a lot of food resources and the ocean to be gone. I think for the ocean, there are still a lot of things that people don’t understand. Education is important. So I’m focusing on awareness, and trying to influence the younger generation while I still can.”
However, the humble actor isn’t looking to influence for the sake of influencing. He’s past all that; for him now, what he’s doing is sharing an opinion, sending out a plea, offering encouragement. “As a kid, I’ve always loved the ocean. My dad always took me to the beach when I was really young. His family had a house right on the beach, and that was where he grew up. He always loved nature, so he brought me up experiencing nature and wildlife as much as possible,” Wang says. “But I think it was only after I met my wife that we both started to get tired of daily routines, of the city and party lifestyles. We started thinking ‘maybe we should go on an adventure’, ‘go to the Philippines’ or ‘let’s try to catch whale sharks’ instead of partying in the city every weekend, what society deemed a ‘normal weekend’.” With Empire Aqua, Wang is trying to do things right—he’s constantly speaking to experts, from marine biologists and professors to conservation organisations to see how he can help.
Denim jacket by Coach X MBJ; T-shirt, stylist's own.
It’s thinking about the future of our planet that helps Wang find meaning in life. “We [he and his wife] were listening to the generation before us and they go ‘sucks to be you guys. We used to see sharks all the time, we’d just jump into the water and there they were’. Now we go on diving trips maybe 30 times, and we barely see any sharks. I’m always thinking ‘so what about the next generation?’” He knows it’s not easy to catch people’s attention and spread awareness, “because people get bored easily now. We have to learn to educate visually, instead of the traditional textbook style; it’s different now. The content has to be visually stimulating.” But that doesn’t stop him from trying. When asked if he has a favourite ocean animal, Wang says, “My favourite is the great white shark. I think when you’re young, you fear it. But fear can also lead to fascination. I was always fascinated with all types of sharks, but in particular the great white because it was the biggest and baddest; to me, it was also the most handsome.” Moreover, he hopes more people would pick up diving—“When I dive, I always wonder how many people actually go to these dive spots. I think more people should try it because then they’ll see a different world.” “Take what you need, don’t take what you want,” Wang said at a TED Talk in Beijing on shark conservation. “There must be a balance. Yes, I have work, I have my life and hobbies, but I also want to give back. There are a lot of different things that you can focus on because the world is so big. For me, I choose to give back to the ocean.”
Shearling aviator jacket by Coach X MBJ.
AT OUR SHOOT, there were no signs of disinterest or weariness from Wang as he posed for pictures and spoke during our interview; he was very much at ease despite it being a long day. But when his best friend Ryan showed up on set, we had the privilege of seeing Wang completely in his comfort zone, relaxing, chatting and laughing with his best friend—a thoroughly different sight, and a refreshing perspective of a celebrity, we might add. It’s a familiar notion that we often inflate our opinions of celebrities, looking up to (and sometimes envying) their lifestyles to counter our relatively mundane lives, that we sometimes forget that they are just like us. In Wang’s case, just taller and more well-known all over the world.
WHEN WE MET with the charismatic Wang, his mother’s birthday had just past and we ended up having a quick conversation about her. “My mum is the most responsible person, and she’s always on time. She taught us time management—that was her big thing. She’s a very smart lady; she’s not naive but pretends to be, which is kind of funny. She’s like that typical Asian mum: a little bit fake to strangers but so real to her own family.” He continues, “I was always the rebellious kid, so she couldn’t really control me. We butt heads a lot. When she wants to say something, she talks to me in that Asian mum's way of beating around the bush before getting to the point. But my mum’s interesting because she understands me; she’s like my oldest friend. Sometimes we don’t talk much, sometimes we talk a lot; she probably talks to my wife more actually. I’m just not the type of person who chats with their parents that much. I grew up really independent so our relationship is definitely interesting. I’ll say things she doesn’t want to hear, but then she can’t control me [laughs]. But I always try not to hurt her feelings.”
His admiration and respect for his mum was undeniable, but Wang admits that he became more appreciative of women and their sacrifices since he himself got married. “I’m starting to understand what women have to sacrifice, through my wife. I’m sure my mum had dreams and aspirations and things that she wanted to do, but she had to take care of us and also had to help my dad. But what about her? What were the things that she wanted to do? So, I just wanted to acknowledge her and say thank you.”
“But now I’m all about finding the balance in everything—that’s really important to me. You don’t need to go in sixth gear all the time, but you can’t be too slow either. You gotta find that balance in life to be happy. That’s what’s important”
ON LESSONS ON LIFE, Wang refers to a James Dean quote, ‘Dream as if you will live forever. Live as if you will die today’. He says when he was younger “all I wanted was to experience as much as I can. But now… I don’t know if it’s age, or… I don’t know what it is but now I’m all about finding the balance in everything—that’s really important to me. You don’t need to go in sixth gear all the time, but you can’t be too slow either. You gotta find that balance in life to be happy. That’s what’s important.” “It starts with yourself. I think once you find that happiness and love and that balance, you can share it with your loved ones and people around you. If you’re not happy yourself, it’ll be difficult to be happy around other people. A couple of years ago, I was all about 'yeah let’s work' and “it’s all about work because I gotta make this much”. But then I wondered, am I happy? Is doing all these things really worth it?” When asked if he has found that balance in life, he contemplates his answer. “I think so, I think I’ve found a certain kind of balance. It is what it is right now.”
3-In-1 parka by Coach X MBJ; T-shirt & jeans, stylist's own.
WITH ALL THAT SAID, Wang still finds time to manage an acting career while pursuing his passions. His upcoming projects are all Chinese, and he will be on Tencent Video—a Chinese video streaming website and the biggest online platform in China—with No Secrets and on Hunan Television—a provincial satellite TV station—with I Am Not A Shopaholic. “I also have a movie coming out, Wild Grass with Elane Chong—it’s about 1990s Shanghai and is more artsy and a little dark. I’m anticipating these three projects so I’m taking some time off too. I can work on my vlogs and do more with Empire Aqua, more conservation work. I’m not really looking to film right now. I’m just planning to enjoy life at the moment. I’ll also spend time at home with the family and just recharge and get really healthy. ” But that's not all he's going to be doing. In a sweet Instagram post in late September, Wang shared the exciting news that he and Dizzy are going to be parents! So, after perusing his social media for research and spending five hours with Sunny Wang in an interview and photoshoot, can the Esquire Malaysia team tell what he is really like as a person? We have to say both yes and no. We certainly did gain a better sense of Sunny Wang the man and his passions, an advantage that comes with spending time with people, but admittedly it was all done within the context of a casually business professional atmosphere. Well, we can’t complain. After all, there has to be a balance in everything. And that is perfectly fine.
Photographs by Nelson Chong
Styling & Art Direction by Ian Loh
Makeup by Ian
Hair by Zack
Photographer assisted by Asyraf
On the cover image: Sunny wears a shearling aviator jacket by Coach x MBJ.
This article was first published in the Winter 2019 issue of Esquire Malaysia. Download the digital edition here.