Eduardo Enrique

It was a decision made during COVID. To not give a damn. To not care if the brands that he worked with knew what he does in his art practice. It may seem unusual for a marketing person to take on this stance, but Eduardo Enrique isn’t the average marketing person.

“All I do for work is to convince brands to stay true to what they believe in and connect with the public in a very sincere way,” Enrique shares. 

Like many major world events—9/11, a reality-show star becoming president, the Rohingya refugee crisis, Covid—it is these sorts of grand incidents that one would be cast into an existential funk. For Enrique, he wonders if he should stop hiding who he is and what he does. 

He is no stranger to taking on a nom de plume. His earlier endeavour was Dick Worldwide, where he took fashion accessories and turned them into phalluses. Dick Worldwide blew up when Hypebae reported on his project. He didn’t give a lot of information about himself. He specifically kept away from using pronouns that might give away his gender identity. 

“I didn’t want to attach an identity to the project because it plays a role in what licences you have as an artist,” Enrique says. “It's not a celebration of masculinity. I chose penises because [they are] the oldest form of mockery where there are graffiti of penises back in Renaissance times. If I said I was a woman in the Middle East, the public will see the work in an entirely new way.” 

Identity defines what sort of roles you can have, or even what sort of roles the public expects you to inhabit. As an artist, Enrique finds it challenging to play with sexuality in his work because there’s too much tension around the subject. For Brand Love, Enrique’s last exhibition in Singapore before he left for Hong Kong, he continues questioning pop culture’s fixation with brands with a what-if: What if there was a Nike retail bondage store? 

Taking the identity of a well-known sports brand, Enrique reconstituted it and created fetish garments and bondage equipment. He made sure to keep the installations to be ‘fair’ across genders. “There were two mannequins—one male, one female. I wanted to make sure there’s a good balance between the sexes,” he says. 

“Because we’re in the age of representation, everybody represents something; [they] represent the voice of a certain thing. That’s why my identity as an artist has only to do with the fact that I’m also [a] marketer; it’s never a celebration and a critique against consumerism. It’s an observation because I’m also [a] huge consumer.”

Untitled (2020)

For New Painting, which was held at the Substation in 2020, there was a piece of work with the spray-painted words ‘God’ and ‘Gucci’ with checkboxes next to them. On the first day of the show, a woman, who was smoking mere minutes ago, came in and approached Enrique. She asked him which one he’d pick. He looked at the painting, then back to her. Both, he replied. The woman looked at him and, with a smile, said thank you and left.


“I’m a creative trying to bridge disciplines. Especially in Singapore, everything is so young and arbitrary,” he admits. 

At this point in time, Enrique feels that he is at a perfect intersection to talk about consumerism because he represents the companies in selling the product while commenting on the commercialism part of it. “There’s a love-and-hate relationship,” Enrique says. 

But does that make him a hypocrite? Or can one man embody opposites? 

Enrique funds his own shows. That keeps him free and honest; he is untainted by favours that come with other people’s money. But Enrique thinks that is just how he is. He’s never asked for permission. For his first show, New Painting, he eschewed asking people for permission lest he heard the word no. 

He’s a one-man operation, a self-starter. He chose the Substation, put up his own money, created the artwork which he mounted himself, and opened his exhibition to the public. In his head, he has calculated all possible scenarios of things that could go right and wrong. If he had dwelled on these scenarios, he’d never have put up an art show.

Eduardo Enrique’s bio on The Artling states that “the artist explicitly denies talking about his nationality, as he maintains that one should not be judged based on their geographical origin”. Fair that. But it is in this writer’s opinion that to know where you’re going, you need to know where you’ve started from.

Enrique grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. It’s a setting he describes as “very conservative”. His family model isn’t traditional: his parents divorced and his mother raised her kids by herself.

He sees parallels with his mother. “We have the same work ethic,” Enrique reveals. “She’s a go-getter and she finishes what she starts. I don’t think her parents allowed her to be creative. My mum wanted to study architecture but she was forced to choose something else. 

“But she is a fount of creativity and while she never articulated it, she taught me that, to a certain extent, there always needs to be an element of joy in what you do.” 

His childhood was idyllic, but living in a third-world country that’s prone to coups and political upheavals, he became familiar with uncertainty. His family were nomads; Enrique never spent more than four years in the same place. It’s a transient lifestyle that is rather normal to him. He remembers that when he hired someone to help him move, the person asked where the rest of the furniture was. “I’m like, no, this is it,” Enrique says. “As a minimalist, I’ve to let go. Materialism is cyclical.” 

Even the artworks?

“I think you need to be detached to them emotionally,” he says matter-of-factly. “I dispose of a lot of my artwork. I’ll tell people on Instagram that I’m getting rid of a piece and it’s up for grabs.” There is an item that he cannot abandon.

Nike shoes.

He was never much for brands, even when he was living as a stereotype of a Brooklyn hipster when he was working for the creative agency, Swell in New York. Biking, buying vinyls... Enrique was into fashion but he wasn’t into the hype of it. 

“My whole background is in fashion advertising; fashion was about vanity,” he notes. “As a child, vanity was my way of patching up a lot of my insecurities. You buy things to feel empowered, to feel cool.” 

So, when he saw a black pair of Nike Air Force 1, it spoke to him. Enthralled by the silhouette, he forked over money for the sneakers and became a returning customer. He has a collection of Air Force 1s that he can’t bear to be rid of. He lugs them around, this minimalist and his yoke of passion. 

His mother and he lived separately but they still saw each other. Enrique was working at Fabrica then. “She ended up in Singapore. She called me one day and said, hey, I’m going through breast cancer treatment. I quit [my job] and moved to Singapore.”

She got better and Enrique expected to be in Singapore for six months but it stretched to six years. During his tenure, he worked for two creative agencies and made his foray as a full-fledged artist.

"Nude Model in Air Jordans" (2020)

A friend—who prefers to remain anonymous—owns, according to Enrique, “one of his best pieces today”. It’s called "Nude Model in Air Jordans". Taken from his exhibition New Paintings, the piece is a large canvas with the title spray-painted on the back. “When I started, it was important for me to land the idea that I’m not interested in technicality. I’m a conceptual artist. I don’t care about the quality of things. I want people to feel like they could have done what I’ve done. 

New Painting was about classic themes with a twist of modern consumerism. For the front, I tried to render nude modelling or Jordans in so many different ways. But I’ve decided that the front will remain hidden. The painting only exists in your mind and that to me is the best painting I’ve done. 

“This guy looks at it and says that he loves it but can’t articulate why. I told him that I’ll sell it to him if he promises never to see what’s on the front. He agreed, and knowing him, he never did peek at the front.”

Brand Love (2022)

The original plan for Brand Love was to put up a pop-up in the middle of the street. Enrique’s name wouldn’t be on it, but it would be a pop-up that was selling these art pieces. “I’m not Banksy. I’m not somebody with a following,” he states. 

So, Enrique got local art gallery Art Now to house his exhibition during Art Week. “I wanted to make it clear that is art,” he explains. “So we put up all the signs that say I’m not affiliated with Nike. There was only so much planning we could do until Nike sends in the cease-and-desist. It would have been a much different show but I’ll be happy with that outcome as well.” 

This time, he got collaborators to design the interior. He set aside a space for Nike’s cease-and-desist letter. A space in the corner, almost like a taunt. It remained empty throughout the showing. 

Sexual liberation, a commentary on materialism, but there’s another takeaway from Brand Love that not many people will pick up. It’s about courage. “I wanted people who viewed the exhibition to tell me that it took a lot of courage,” Enrique says. Remember, this man is an overthinker and that sort of trait can eclipse that first step in doing. 

Can you imagine doing something that doesn’t shake things up? You can chalk it up to Enrique’s revolutionary South American way of thinking. But to have a true revolution in the culture, you’ll need to challenge the status quo. Love Brand is Enrique’s own little coup in the local art world. He hopes that it’ll at least inspire people to take bigger risks.

"No One Knows" (2020)

Enrique’s life is a series of happy accidents. Recently married (he met his flight-attendant wife on the plane), they are moving to Hong Kong for his new job with Edelman. “Motion represents so much of my life and Singapore is such a dream to live in. There’s no safe place than here, but I am curious about what else is out there,” Enrique says. “Hong Kong seems like a chaotic place, and having come from the chaos I need a little bit of it.”

But first, they would need to travel to Russia so that his wife can get her travel permit. It would be weeks after they arrive there that Russia would invade Ukraine. The battle reminded Enrique of his past, but what he thinks of current events will be another story of his to tell. 

Still, his life is never boring. “My biggest fear in life is to get stuck," Enrique says, "so I’m always challenging myself to just keep blooming."

Originally published April 2022

The Stripper Index has been making the rounds on Twitter again. If you missed it, this index lauds the strip club as a leading recession indicator. The economy is wobbly if exotic dancers, who rely on daily cash tips to make a living, are seeing lower earnings. The original online oracle (@boticellibimbo) is a stripper and graduate student from Columbia University. Heralding the current unofficial recession via a tweet in May 2022, she shared that she would check stock alerts to decide whether or not it would be worthwhile going to work that night. Her recent tweets bring hopeful tidings for the American economy—her old clients are back in the clubs, flush with discretionary dollars for their favourite dancers.

As an arts advocate and longtime self-employed person in the entertainment sphere, it's heartening to hear of consumers directly and enthusiastically supporting their local artists, especially in an economic downturn. After that ignominious Sunday Times survey was published in June 2020, where 71 per cent of respondents picked “Artist” as the most non-essential pandemic job, I’d like to see a little more appreciation and yes, money, coming our way.


I’m not an economist but wiser minds agreed that we've been at risk for a technical recession since February 2020, when Covid-19 did its thing. We remember the lockdown and the things that kept us sane. We ran with our music blasting; we streamed shows; we connected with other isolated humans online and we doom-scrolled beautiful photos on the ’gram. All these mental health essentials that the average person relied on to survive the Circuit Breaker, they continue to rely on to enhance their present lived experience daily. Strangely, it seems that many (at least 71 per cent of the people who took The Sunday Times survey) don’t realise that the progenitor of the music, the shows, the video games and the images that they consume, is an artist.

Being a creative isn't the same as having a hobby. And having a “cool” job in the arts doesn't insulate you from needing to pay bills. Whatever economists want to call the downturn we’re in, it’s hitting artists especially hard. Art does not appear, fully formed, from the ether. Even if the gear needed to create art is a fixed cost, the experimentation needed to get to a finished art product is a frighteningly variable cost… and the bills pile up fast.

At the start of the troubles in 2020, peer-to-peer sale sites like Carousell were awash with photographers selling camera lenses and musicians offloading instruments. It was sobering to realise that artists were flogging the tools of their trade. As an erstwhile lawyer, I will now take a Harvey Spectre dance break: Even if someone were legally declared bankrupt and creditors are at the gate, the law recognises the need for the bankrupt to earn a living. The bankrupt’s tools of their trade cannot form part of the bankrupt’s estate (aka what is allowed to be sold to satisfy their creditors), otherwise the bankrupt can't earn any income at all. Many artists, like gig musicians, were prevented from earning any professional income during Covid-19 but the bills still needed to be paid. Making the decision to sell their gear and being unable to buy their way back in, led to highly talented creatives exiting the industry in favour of quicker cash generating options like food delivery. We might be paying for this creative brain drain for a while.


As much as we wryly bemoan the alleged cultural desert we live in, Singapore does have an artistic brain trust to defend. The Forbes 30 Under 30 list regularly features Singapore musicians, including an act I used to manage, The Sam Willows. Nathania Ong is presently treading the boards on the West End playing Eponine in London’s second longestrunning musical Les Miserables. Sam See has headlined comedy shows in 25 countries and is a regular on the Edinburgh comedy circuit. Sonny Liew’s graphic novel, The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, won a slew of awards, including the Eisner Award for Best Writer/ Artist. Shavonne Wong is an award-winning fashion photographer who pivoted to creating her own models and minting them as NFTs, amassing celebrity fans that include Idris Elba.

"But NFTs aren’t real art!”, I hear some naysayers gripe. In October 2022, the Singapore High Court published the first written judgment in Asia that protected a non-fungible token (NFT). It was a case involving one of the more famous NFTs, a Bored Ape, and in it, the Singapore Courts acknowledged that NFTs can properly be regarded as property. Cryptobros and a Discord of NFT art collectors throughout the island breathed a collective sigh of relief at the recognition of their investment as real property.

Both digital and traditional Singapore artists are pushing boundaries and working hard. And these efforts have been recognised by independent, international bodies. I paraphrase the television show franchise and declare, Singapore Has Talent, and these talents deserve to be appreciated.


In 2014, I hopped on a train to the old Hougang bus interchange for the 100 Bands Music Festival. Beyond the eponymous 100 indie music acts that were scheduled to play, there were also booths for food and merchandise. One of the visual artists exhibiting at the music festival was selling limited prints of her work, including a piece she had created as the album cover for the debut EP of post-prog rock band, 7nightsatsea. Today, that same original work by Allison M Low, “Warboat”, goes for SGD1,431 on her Australia gallery’s website. Back in that heaving, humid bus depot festival of 2014, I bought three of Allison’s prints for less than 10 per cent of that, purely because I thought they were cool.

If there is a non-braggy point to this anecdote, it isn’t (just) that diamond-handing the art pieces for nine years has got me an on-paper 10-times return. Granted, what I bought is a limited edition print and what she’s now selling is the original. I bought the pieces because I liked them and have genuinely loved being around them all this time, even as I moved from my parents’ place to my own. Do I get a small frisson every time I see the artist’s name in the media and the public sphere, knowing she’s on the ascent? Yes. It’s nice knowing an international art gallery is managing her and a growing chunk of the world agrees with my subjective art preferences. But more than that, it’s gratifying to know that my 2014 decision to invest even a tiny amount in a specific artist has turned out to be a “sound” investment. Most importantly, I still think the pieces are cool.


Art creation is not free, so stop being cheap. The next time you go to a bar and make a song request, send the band a tip. The next time you forward your friend a TikTok or a reel, follow the creator and subscribe to their Patreon. While you’re waiting for your little man to walk forward on the screen to get you on the Taylor Swift registration list, take a moment to browse all the other live events that are happening in Singapore; round up the friend group and attend a show. Or go to a gallery or watch a recital. Whatever you choose, please pay for the pleasure of enjoying the fruits of the artist’s labour. There are so many ways for consumers to make like @boticellibimbo’s clients and make a direct and immediate cash contribution to your local arts scene. Pick the one that works best for you and invest in the creative and cultural scene you want to have. Creators are standing by to make money moves.

“I’ll have the fried kway teow please,” I said as slowly as I could manage, in the stifling tropical heat of the hawker centre, eager to have my first taste of Singapore’s trademark cuisine.

“What you want ah?” came the sharp, and to my unattuned ears, completely indecipherable reply.

This was not going well.

As the line started to build up steadily behind me, I assumed that simply by speaking louder, I could make myself better understood.

“Fried kwaaay teow,” emphasising the “a” sound in what would prove to be a futile attempt to enunciate what was otherwise unpronounceable to me.

The matronly proprietor of the fried noodle shop, growing increasingly irate, shot me back a quizzical look.

“Eh, you want popiah (a Singaporean radish-filled wrap dish) go over there, you can see I have a lot of customers here or not?”

My lunch companion, by now unable to stifle her laughter at my inability to order the iconic dish, decided to step in, “Aunty, two char kway teow, no chilli, eat here.”

“Ah, why your friend don’t say? He ang moh or what? But he don’t look ang moh leh.”

Before I could express my indignation, my lunch companion dragged me aside as others in line for the rice noodle-based delicacy shot me evil glances for holding it up.

“What was that all about?” I protested.

“Aiyah, nothing lah. Your accent lah. The poor lady can’t understand a word you’re saying.”

“What accent? My accent is not that bad.”

“Are you kidding? I’d say the number of locals who can understand you are in the minority.”

“But I spoke English and I was told that’s the lingua franca of Singapore.”

“It’s not what you say that’s a problem, it’s how you say it. It’s your accent.”

Having just arrived in Singapore after most of a life spent growing up in Daytona Beach, Florida, I was determined to assimilate in a way I never quite had been able to in America.

After all, growing up as one of only two Asian kids in a small town on Florida’s Atlantic coast, I was for the first time in my life, surrounded by people who looked like me, surely, I would want to sound like them too.

Assimilation is in many ways a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, new emigres are often eager to adapt to the ways of their adoptive countries, but on the other hand, there’s a part of each and every one of us that clings to our identities, a concept that’s becoming increasingly plastic given greater global mobility.

Growing up as an Asian kid in a predominantly white town, I remember ladies coming up to me in the local Ponderosa and asking to touch my hair because it was so shiny and black.

Naturally, I took no offense to it at the time, there were certainly benefits to being the local Asian curiosity (such as an extra-large scoop of vanilla at the ice cream parlour).

Nor would I take offense when kindly strangers told my mother, “Your son speaks such good English!” as if I was some freak of nature.

I would always manage a, “You’re not too bad yourself lady,” before my mother would embarrassingly pull me away.

And perhaps more significantly, when I opened my mouth to speak, I sounded like everyone else in Daytona Beach.

Given how I had grown up in Daytona Beach instead of being a transplant like my parents were, my thick southern accent was a function of prolonged exposure to other Floridians, for whom any other accent would have been inscrutable.

Yet it was this very ability to assimilate in America that would prove to be an Achilles heel on my return to Asia—no one could really understand me (not that I could fully understand them either).

Undeterred, I tried my best to shake off my southern drawl and pepper my speech with suitable local colloquialisms, when a German friend one day remarked to me, “You’re pretty good at code-switching!”

“Code-switching? What’s that?”

As it turns out, code-switching is something many of us do, whether we’re conscious of it or not.

Whether it’s an attempt to sound more Singaporean so I could sample local dishes with minimal fuss, or a Singaporean trying to sound more anglicised, outside of America and other countries where English is the native tongue, most people code-switch.

Since the concept of codeswitching was brought to my attention all those years ago, I’ve grown more conscious of it and noted those who tend not to at all.

Americans would never attempt to change their accents, whereas I have noted countless Singaporeans and others from Asia try to sound more “American” or “British” when speaking with their white friends as if they wouldn’t be able to understand them otherwise.

And while it may be true the Singaporean accent can be impenetrable at times, does codeswitching to sound more American or British actually take away from the Singaporean identity?

Surely there aren’t a lot of Americans trying to sound like Singaporean people speaking English (although there are far more American children trying to sound Australian thanks to the hit animated series Bluey).

Recently there was a small furore when American mothers, concerned their children were starting to sound like the Australian-accented Bluey from the animated series, suggested an Americanised version of the cartoon be created, as if there was something objectionable about the Australian accent.

The concern as it turns out, wasn’t so much that kids would behave like Australians, Bluey is a very wholesome cartoon, but rather they would sound more like Steve Irwin the Crocodile Hunter.

This is why it may not be a bad idea to introduce the concept of code-switching.

To be fair, actors do it all the time—whether to play a character from a different country or even from a different era, code-switching is to acting what butter is to bread.

With the progress of time, I’ve come to accept the necessity of code-switching.

When I return to America, I return to sounding like an American, and while I remain in Singapore, I try my darnedest to sound Singaporean, neither of which I feel diminishes either my Americanness or my Singaporean-ness.

We live in a globalised world where accents are a feature, not a bug.

An accent, whether organic or adopted, can help assimilation for the speaker and also the listener.

And while an adopted accent can be jarring on the ears of a native speaker at times, the recipient should appreciate the effort being made at code-switching.

In a world where we increasingly choose the people, places, culture and histories we most identify with, surely it is within our grasp to also select the accents we most associate with as well?

So, here’s to code-switching for those who can do it. And for those who haven’t tried it, I highly recommend it.

Just don’t forget to switch back from time to time y’all.

Jumper and trousers, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

This is not a promo for a TV show or film.

Features with actors are usually about film or TV projects but the current strikes in Hollywood may inevitably be putting the kibosh on many future cover stories. Daniel Wu can’t talk about his recent media productions but he can talk about everything else, even the strikes and why they’re occurring.

“It’s a repeat of what happened on Spotify several years ago,” Wu says. Just before he jumped onto our Zoom interview, he was organising his residual checks. For all the projects that he had worked on, the shows that are on streaming pay pennies on the dollar. “You put your music on Spotify and you get a penny for 1,000 plays. The creator gets almost nothing back for their content. Musicians can make that money back by touring but not actors. There are no other avenues for us to earn a living except when we make films or TV shows. That’s what is at stake at the moment, hence the strikes.”

It’s a complicated affair and it’ll take more than a cover story to break it all down but here it is, in a nutshell: the Writers Guild of America (WGA)—a union that represents screenwriters working in Hollywood—is striking because residual deals from streaming platforms (Netflix, Apple TV+, Disney+) are below acceptable living wages. There’s also the contention about the use of AI to replace writers.

The WGA strike coincided with the Screen Actors Guild and American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) strike. Again, this is due to unfair streaming residuals and the replication of their likeness without compensation via AI. These combined strikes have postponed this year’s Emmys; productions for, both current and future projects, were shuttered; films and TV shows that were already made were adjourned to later dates. Todd Holmes, an entertainment industry management professor at Cal State Northridge, based his calculation on the last WGA strike in 2007 and estimated that it might cause a USD3 billion dent in California’s economy.

While Wu may not be vocal on his social media platform (“I don’t talk about too much about the strikes on IG because everyone else has already said what’s needed to be said.”) but he is very much a union man.

“I’m totally for the strike, even though it’s a bummer that we can’t work now. But this is too important for the whole industry to shape what the future is going to be for everyone.”

With the ongoing strikes, you’d think that Wu would have loads of downtime.

You’d be wrong.

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Before the pandemic took a stranglehold on the world, the actor, Sung Kung—he of the resurrected Han from Fast and the Furious franchise—Brendan McGrath and Wu formed Student Driver. It’s a lifestyle brand that hypes all the positives of car culture; a tongue-in-cheek take on the student drivers in America—recognisable by the yellow caution sticker on the back of their cars. It’s a jab at the noob-ness of a tire tyro but it’s also the label’s philosophy that no matter how experienced or good you are, you’re always learning. That essentially, you are a student.

Kang and Wu realised that they could leverage their celebrity to promote Student Driver. “It wasn’t for any narcissistic reason,” Wu quickly adds. “If you look at our IG accounts, we’re trying to show what we’re into and what we’re passionate about. We wanted to inspire people and use Student Driver as a place to gather like-minded people.

"You put your music on Spotify and you get a penny for 1,000 plays. The creator gets almost nothing back for their content. Musicians can make that money back by touring but not actors. There are no
other avenues for us to earn a living except when we make films or TV shows. That's what is at stake at the moment, hence the strikes."

It became a meeting place for car enthusiasts from all over; a crossroads where racers mingle with designers, mechanics and the like. “Student Driver became much bigger than just selling stuff,” Wu says. “It became a community where we are learning from one another.”

Wu always wanted to have his own line of merch but there was never a compelling reason for him to do so. He didn’t want to see things happen for the sake of it happening.

Take his only directorial project. Titled, The Heavenly Kings, it was a mockumentary about the Cantopop industry in Hong Kong. But it wasn’t enough to cover a fictional band for the film, it had to feel real. So, Wu created a fake boyband called ALIVE with Terence Yin, Andrew Lin and Conroy Chan. For the next 18 months, Wu orchestrated press tours, live shows and even released an EP, all the while directing the film.

No one, aside from the main cast and close collaborators, knew about the project. Not even the press, a majority that felt betrayed when the truth was disclosed after the film’s release. For their efforts, The Heavenly Kings garnered Wu a Best New Director award at the 26th Hong Kong Film Awards.

“I think directing is one of my strengths,” says Wu. “I think that came from my architecture background; I look at the bigger picture instead of just focusing on one part as an actor.”

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Celebrity and being an actor are often mistakenly conflated. One can lead to the other but each occupies their own space. Wu never set out to be a celebrity but he never set out to be an actor either. In 1997, he travelled to Hong Kong, wanting to witness the country’s handover to China. At his sister’s suggestion, Wu took up modelling and months later, the director Yonfan saw Wu in a clothing ad and wanted him to star in his film, Bishonen.

Have you ever loved something so much that you don’t want to ruin it by interacting with it? That was Wu’s reasoning for turning down the role. “I love movies so much that I don’t want to screw it up with my acting.” 

But Yonfa pursued and eroded Wu’s apprehension. Bishonen afforded many liberties to Wu in film and TV. With an impressive oeuvre of films under his belt, Wu still finds the fame that comes with being an actor strange. 

That’s why he still keeps in touch with his best friend Ian Urban. Since 12, Wu and Urban have been thick as thieves. “He was a big part of my formative years,” Wu says. “Keeping him and people like him in my life, helps me stay grounded. Reminds me of where I came from.”

Urban and Wu lived in the same area so they carpooled to school. They took Spanish (and were failing it as well). They were heavily into the arts. Urban was the reason why Wu got into cars and racing. 

That love for cars abated when Wu moved to Hong Kong. The country was never conducive to racing and vehicles were expensive to begin with. “Can you imagine modifying them on top of it?” Wu asks. “And modding is technically illegal there.”

When he returned to the US, the first thing Wu did was tap on Urban, who was a driving coach for the Audi Club, and another family friend, who was an instructor for another track day events group. 

They would head to track day events, where Wu would learn how to race on the track. He adapted to it quickly. For the five years that he was back in the States, he did as many track days as he could. Eventually, he climbed to the top 10 per cent of fastest racers on the track.

Suit and polo jumper, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

In the Bay Area, Wu shared a garage with Urban where they built and worked on cars. Down from where they are, is Patrick Ottis Co. that restores vintage Ferraris. Wu and Urban would pass by the garage all the time but they were afraid to enter, “because the cars in there are worth millions, right?” Wu says.

“One day, we were walking by their garage and Tazio [Patrick’s son] was out front and said hi.” They started talking and he gave them a tour of the place. A friendship bloomed over their shared interest in building cars and endless hours at the race track. That soon morphed into a mentorship when Wu learnt to race professionally. Eventually, they embarked on their first endurance racing programme. Committed to a whole season, their first race was a two-hour race at Sonoma Raceway. The next was a night race at Buttonwillow Raceway Park. As soon as darkness blanketed the sky, Wu freaked out. But as he acclimated to the conditions, Wu managed to place third. “The moment I stepped out, I felt this happiness of finishing and not crashing.”

"When I first met him, he was 48 or 49. That was 22 years ago. And now he's 70. To me, the time that my wife and I have been together doesn't seem that long. It zips by. The last 10 years that my daughter has grown, that has gone real fast too."

He credits it to his martial arts training, which he still practises three days a week. Wu likens racing to being on a film set. “The director could be screaming at somebody, things are going slow, they are losing light... You can’t pay attention to that.” He frames it as “finding that calm”. When night falls and the dust kicks up to obstruct your vision, stick to the technique, stay calm and trust yourself to get through the chaos.

For the NASA (National Auto Sport Association) Utah Sunchaser race, Wu had to compete in an LMP3 model, a car that he hadn’t raced the night before. Starting at 6pm, the six-hour race runs until midnight. When Wu was in the driver’s seat, he discovered the headlights were aimed to the right... but all their turns were to the left. He couldn’t see the bends so sometimes he’d swerve too late or too early; driving his car off the track.

It’s almost enough for anyone to throw in the towel but Wu knew his team depended on him. Win or lose, he needed to shake to do better.


If racing on the track is fast, living a life is quicker. Especially, when death is present at the periphery. Wu’s near-death experience with a burst appendix in 2019 was a “wake-up call to live in the moment”. Years later, when he was at his father-in-law’s 70th birthday party, “I did a mental calculation,” Wu says, “when I first met him, he was 48 or 49. That was 22 years ago. And now he’s 70. To me, the time that my wife and I have been together doesn’t seem that long. It zips by. The last 10 years that my daughter has grown, that has gone real fast too.”

That’s why he’s not working as much as he used to. He allocates a certain amount of time per year for work and spends the rest of his time on the things that matter.

Both his parents have passed. Wu posted an image of his father, opining that he would have been 94 this year. I mentioned that he’s almost a spitting image of his dad. “Hopefully my hair stays longer than his,” Wu says jokingly. “I think he went bald in his 20s, so right now, I think I’m doing okay in that department.”

Other than their looks, they also shared a common passion for a fancy family car.

In 1988, Wu’s dad retired and as a gift to himself, decided to purchase a Porsche 911. This felt truly odd to the 14-year-old Wu, as his dad had never been interested in cars and for the frugal family living in Berkeley suburbs, that was an absolute extravagance.

At the car dealership, his dad gave Wu carte blanche to pick out a hue for the exterior (“I picked the weirdest colour because that’s the kind of person I am.”) and Wu asked if they could add a whale-tail spoiler (“A regular 911 doesn’t come with a tail but a 911 Turbo does.”). His dad acquiesced to both suggestions.

The Porsche became a thing that father and son would talk about often. While his dad rarely drove it—and if he did, it was only on the weekends and within speed limits, the car rides spent with him were moments to connect. This experience also cemented his passion for cars.

Currently, the Porsche sits in the Petersen Automotive Museum in LA to coincide with Porsche’s 75th anniversary exhibition. “He kept the car really clean,” Wu says. “Even when I took it over 10 years ago, it still looked brand new.” But the automobile on display will be far better purposed when Wu takes it back and takes it out for a drive. “It’s a nice way to memorialise and think about my dad.”

Overshirt and jumper, RALPH LAUREN PURPLE LABEL

During Covid, when his daughter, Raven, was in primary one, Wu had to oversee her home distance learning. She was enrolled in a Chinese immersion class and Wu underestimated how little she had absorbed from the module than he originally hoped. “I got a little angry and said, how come you don’t know that? As the words came out of my mouth, I could hear my dad’s voice.”

Wu had to pull back, assess the situation with Raven and figure out the right way to go about it. “Having a kid made me re-evaluate how to strike a balance between how I was raised and how I need to raise her. I’m still stern but I usually edit the first thing that comes to mind and try to say them in a better way.

“I don’t want my kid to be scared of me. I don’t want her to be afraid to talk to me, to ask me for advice. My relationship with my dad was better later in life but in my younger days, I’ve never confided in him about anything.”

It’s being judged by his father’s standards that halted Wu from being open. He didn’t think he would understand. Even when Wu started acting, his dad would ask when was he going to get a real job.

"I'm not an expert and I've never tried to present otherwise, which is why I have an issue with people saying, oh, your life is perfect, blah blah… No, I make mistakes everyday. Things that I could be better at and that includes being a father. I'm trying my best. You're not successful all the time but you try to be better."

It wasn’t until many years later that his dad visited and stayed at a 12-hour shoot where Wu was. At the end of his set, his dad patted Wu on the shoulder and simply said, “You work really hard.”

“That was huge to me,” Wu says. “He was finally accepting what I do.” For Wu, parenthood is a progression. “I’d do what my dad never did: apologise. I’ll tell my daughter what I just said was a little too much. I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to make you upset.” His kid might not grow into the person he expects her to be but that’s something that Wu says he has to deal with.

“I’m not an expert and I’ve never tried to present otherwise, which is why I have an issue with people saying, oh, your life is perfect, blah blah… No, I make mistakes every day. Things that I could be better at and that includes being a father. I’m trying my best. You’re not successful all the time but you try to be better.”

Which is such a refreshing thing to hear from a celebrity or actor, whatever. That as a parent, I’m painted less of a monster, and that the world is more forgiving. We have no idea where the finish line is. All of us, on this road of life, trying to get to our destinations; headlights in the dust and darkness.

We may never reach that stage of enlightenment. But we are alive and there is always the prospect of learning from our pasts.


Photography: Kigon Kwak
Fashion Direction: Asri Jasman
Art Direction: Joan Tai
Styling: Jungle Lin

Producer: Yu Guoran at APEX Communications
Production Assistant: Lu Jiang
Executive Producer / Casting Director: Even Yu at APEX Communications
Grooming: David Cox
Lighting Assistant: Kim Minju

Instead of a rooftop shoot that we had planned, we’re indoors at Dune Studios on Water Street. Outside, the weather is every writer’s dream: “It is an ash-streaked sky that portents a downpour.” “Like a warning, steel wool hangs overhead.” “A dishevelled blanket of grey that drifts languidly like detritus in a muddied pond.” A wet weather doth not a good shoot make.

When Joel Kinnaman arrives, the first thing you notice is how large he is. Bigger than life, broad-chested, he sometimes stands astride, like he’s about to break the spirit of a wild stallion. Then, there’s that presence; a sort of aura that’s quiet but still strong-arms you for your attention.

Just as the fashion shoot is about to start, Kinnaman asks if he could put on his own playlist for the shoot. He brings up his Spotify playlist, titled ‘For some of mankind’. "What Becomes of the Brokenhearted" by Jimmy Ruffin plays.

“The playlists are just for fun,” Kinnaman tells me. “I’ve made a playlist for every project that I’ve been in.”

The project that this particular playlist was made for is For All Mankind, now playing on Apple TV+. It’s a show that puts forth the idea: what if America lost the space race to Russia?

Created and written by Ronald D Moore, the visionary behind the reimagined Battlestar Galactica and Outlander, For All Mankind stars Kinnaman as Edward Baldwin, a NASA astronaut who works alongside Buzz Aldrin (Chris Agos) and Neil Armstrong (Jeff Branson). Kinnaman’s character isn’t based on a particular historical figure, instead he is a composite or a representative of the ‘all-American’ astronauts of that era.

“I’m half-American and half-Swedish,” Kinnaman says. “I’ve lived in Sweden and America so, in a way, I’ve a split identity. My favourite part of the American spirit is not giving up. If they get knocked down, it is a national honour in getting back up and continuing the fight. In reality, when the US got to the moon, it concluded the space race. We didn’t get the continuation in space exploration that everyone was promised.”

Kinnaman is drawn to the science-fiction genre, fantasising of what could have been (though it can be said that the broad field of fiction can also put forward, ‘ what if’). Growing up, he watched the Star Wars movies, he loved the cyberpunk feel when he shot Altered Carbon. He is a fan of Blade Runner due to its dystopian future.

Do you think that sci-fi’s dystopian trope is becoming a reality? Kinnaman muses on that. “We’ve a president who is a national and international embarrassment. He’s immoral, a compulsive liar, a narcissist who doesn’t respect or appreciate democracy. I pray and hope that this nightmare would soon come to an end.

“But I believe we have the potential to overcome this. If we change paths and realign our focus in coming together as a human family, we can solve whatever problems that come our way together.”

This sentiment is echoed in For All Mankind, although the loss wasn’t the be-all and end-all for America. According to Moore, in losing the space race, America ends up the winner in the long run because of the continual effort into space exploration.

“Art can be a little lazy in pointing out the negatives. In many instances, the role that art and the artist play is showing us what’s wrong: that’s important but showcasing the positives is equally important. For All Mankind shows us how we should be operating if we are guided by our better angels.”

Physicist and theoretical biologist, Erwin Schrödinger, came up with a thought experiment. Imagine, if you will, a cat that’s sealed in a box. And inside that box is a device that might or might not kill the cat. Quantum theory states that quantum particles can exist in a superposition of states at the same time. Some even theorise that the quantum particles will collapse to a single state when it’s observed. When applied to Schrödinger’s cat, the feline is both dead and alive until you open the box.

Schrödinger came up with this thought experiment to explain that “misinterpreted simplification of quantum theory can lead to absurd results which don’t match real world quantum physics”. In the real world, it’s absurd that the cat is both dead and alive at the same time.

But one can also see this as an example of how the scientific theory works. Nobody really knows if a theory is right or wrong until it can be tested and proved. It’s like asking someone out on a date, you don’t know if that cute girl or guy will go out with you until you ask; the possibilities of rejection and acceptance remain in co-existence.

That is before you open the box.

Observe: Joel Kinnaman wouldn’t have existed if his father, Steve, had not defected from the US Army. An Indianapolis native, the elder Kinnaman was drafted and stationed in Bangkok, Thailand during the Vietnam War. While he was there, he started spending time with European backpackers, who have a different perspective of the war. A seed was planted. It finally blossomed when he attended a friend’s wedding in Laos. “It turned out that the woman’s family was half Laotian and half Vietnamese,” Kinnaman says. “It was an emotional moment for my dad. He asked himself if these were the people that he was going to kill.”

Still reeling from the love he had witnessed, the elder Kinnaman returned to his base. It was then that he was given the news that he was being reassigned to the battlefront in Vietnam.

In the history of war, the common punishment for desertion is death. According to the US Uniform Code of Military Justice, Article 85, it is meted out “by death of other such punishment as a court-martial may direct”. (Since the Civil War, only one American serviceman was executed for desertion: Private Eddie Slovik in 1945.)

Knowing the penalties for desertion, the elder Kinnaman made the decision that night to leave camp. He hitchhiked his way up into northern Thailand and into Laos. He burned his passport, changed his name and passed off as Canadian. For the next four years, he lived life among the Laotians doing odd jobs. Then, he found out that Sweden grants asylum to Vietnam deserters. Since moving to Sweden, President Jimmy Carter eventually issued an amnesty in 1977. The elder Kinnaman continues to reside in Sweden. After his first marriage ended, he was involved with Bitte, a therapist. This relationship yielded Joel.

“I’ve been working on the script about his life,” Kinnaman says. “The idea would be that I’d play my dad but I’m getting a little old.” It’s a story to be told, one about the dangers of blind patriotism; a tool that’s often exploited by governments. “We need to be critical individuals who should make up our own minds.”

Observe: Kinnaman had his first taste of acting when he was 10. He played Felix Lundström on Storstad, a soap opera that looks at the lives of the residents living in the fictional town of Malmtorget. Back then, Sweden had only two TV channels so even if it’s a secondary or even tertiary role on an ensemble piece, people will recognise you. “I didn’t understand it,” Kinnaman says. “There was something thrilling about being famous but there was something I didn’t like about it either.” His whole experience as a child actor was underwhelming.

In fact, taking a page from ‘history repeating itself ’, observe as Kinnaman could have been a soldier in the Swedish army.

“It was mandatory for the men to be conscripted for a year in the army and it was during my time when the rules for enlistment started to relax,” Kinnaman says. “If you didn’t want to enlist, all you have to do is purposely fail the proficiency tests.”

Alas, Kinnaman was so caught up in the competition that he aced it. His results showed potential to be a company leader. He was enlisted and assigned to an 18-month tour in the Arctic Circle but Kinnaman plum forgot about it. When he moved to Oslo, Norway, to be a bartender, he received a call from his mother, informing him that there was a government notice stating that he was supposed to enlist in three days.

He called the army to tell them that he was no longer in the country. “They said, this is a serious offence and I could get prison time for this. But if I were to write a letter to explain the situation, I could get out of this.” And then he forgot to write the letter. Kinnaman continued working odd jobs but he was always haunted by the thought that if he were ever to be arrested by the police for anything, they might discover his draft dodge from his records and he would be sent to prison.

“I ended up at this fight outside a night club and got taken in by the police.” Kinnaman says. Observe: Kinnaman could have ended up serving his sentence for draft dodging but nothing came of it.

Acting was calling out to him once more. His friend, Gustaf Skarsgård (famously known for his role as Floki in History Channel’s Vikings), was on track to becoming an actor and advised Kinnaman to apply for theatre school. After several applications, Kinnaman finally got into what he describes as “Sweden’s second-best acting school” and would go on to film two movies during his enrolment.

After graduation, he continued acting in Sweden before moving to America. He kept himself busy. He made an appearance in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo; starred as Governor Will Conway in House of Cards; made people notice with his portrayal as the homicide detective, Stephen Holder; scored the lead role in the Robocop remake; was cast as Rick Flag in Suicide Squad.

The one genre that Kinnaman can’t seem to appear in is comedy. Yes, he has a stern demeanour but the man is also funny. “Sometimes, Hollywood sees you in a certain way and it’s much easier to get cast for it. And the next is similar to that and so on. I haven’t made an effort to dissuade people’s opinion. The lighter side is probably more me.”

The closest he has gotten to doing comedy is the shooting of the Suicide Squad sequel. Helmed by James Gunn, Kinnaman said in another interview that it feels like he’s “shooting his first comedy”.

“I’ve been around tough people with issues before,” Kinnaman continues. “I’ve had some bad times so those kind of environments were natural to be in. It’s a survival mechanism too. A way for me to cope as I grew up. At the time, you’re figuring out about your identity. I felt insecure, powerless and didn’t know what to do in life.

“It was a period of my life that was pretty negative. But one of the beauties of acting is that those dark periods become a mother lode that you can mine from. Maybe I’ve drawn a little bit too much from it by playing too many tough guys.”

In May 2016, Kinnaman was one of the delegates and personalities from Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Finland and Sweden who was invited to one of President Obama’s final state dinners. Kinnaman, dressed in a sharp tuxedo, attended the dinner with his then-wife, Cleo Wattenström.

He overheard that the Obamas were fans of House of Cards and was looking forward to being introduced to them. At the reception, he and the other representatives stood in a row as President Obama made his way down the line, shaking hands and posing for a photo op. By Kinnaman’s admission, his mind wandered as he imagined what he’d say when President Obama came up to him. “Maybe I’d say, ‘Mr President’, and then he’ll say ‘Governor Conway’, and then we’ll laugh. And we’ll end it with a cool handshake.”

And all of a sudden, the president stood before him and Kinnaman muttered, “Mr President…” There was an awkward pause. Kinnaman would recount that it’s very possible that either the Obamas hadn’t watched the episode that he was in or if they did, his presence made zero impact. Before the silence could prolong, Kinnaman ended with, “thanks… for everything”. President Obama said something along the lines of, “Surely but surely, we cannot lose hope” and Kinnaman was ushered off.

He would retell this story when he introduced President Obama at Brilliant Minds, a conference of creative individuals who embody the forward-thinking spirit of Sweden, in June 2019. After the introduction, he returned backstage, where President Obama was waiting for his cue to go up. “He had this huge smile on his face and he said to me, ‘bring it in for a cool handshake.’ We hugged, we talked for about five minutes. He was super friendly. I’ll always remember that moment.”

Kinnaman isn’t shy about his politics. He voiced support for the #metoo movement; he had championed the environmental cause by one of his fellow Swedes, Greta Thunberg; he does not hide his disdain for the Trump administration.

“I think the last UN report stated that we have about eight years to turn back our carbon expenditure into the atmosphere,” Kinnaman says about where we’re heading as a species. “You don’t have to be a prophet to see that the world is heading towards the wrong direction. The oceans are heating up, the glaciers are melting. These natural disasters will be more frequent and that’s gonna lead to more tensions among countries.

“Politically, we’re moving towards a more nativist direction; people are pulling away from international cooperation. There’s the rise in disinformation campaigns, which will threaten democracy.”

But Kinnaman, ever the optimist, still believes in the human spirit, that we can innovate our way out of this quagmire.

Observe: Kinnaman, who was born with pectus excavatum, chose to correct the disorder instead of living with it.

Pectus excavatum is a chest-wall deformity that affects roughly one in 400. Instead of the breastbone being flush against the chest, it sinks in. Measured on a scale called the Haller index, anything above an index of 3.2 is considered severe. Kinnaman’s index was a seven or an eight.

“It’s something that’s survivable,” Kinnaman explains. “But it’s a condition that grows worse over time: your posture becomes worse; your stamina worsens as your heart is not given room to pump. By correcting it you can add years to your life.”

For a condition this severe, doctors had to insert two curved metal bars across his chest. Then the bars are turned to force the chest out and then the bars are wired to his ribs. The operation changed his life for the better. He doesn’t feel self-conscious whenever he removes his top. Six weeks after his surgery, he had to do reshoots for Suicide Squad. It was a fight sequence but Kinnaman sucked it up. “Would you like to feel it?” He asked.

He raised his arm like an invitation. I reached out and felt the spot, where the metal bars are, beneath the fabric and skin.

That’s an interesting party trick, I say. Kinnaman could only chuckle in response.

“It’s funny, if you ask me to say a line from a movie that I’ve been in before, I can’t. Not one line from any movie that I’ve done but I once did a monologue that was one hour and 30 minutes and I knew it by heart after 10 days.”

Kinnaman used to opine that as a Swedish-American, growing up with dual cultures gives him a better perspective of the world but that also left him feeling like he doesn’t belong. He jumps from place to place, leading a nomadic existence.

“But I think,” he says as though he had stumbled upon some great truth a long time back, “I don’t wanna travel so much any more. Home. That’s where I’d like to be. I have two bases: one in Venice, LA and the other, an hour outside Stockholm.

“Growing up, my family didn’t have any money. We lived in this tiny little cottage that was in the middle of the woods. Now, I have this piece of land, where my family lives. This past midsummer was the first midsummer that we all spent together.

“That’s my new happy place.”

Joel Kinnaman looks like a man who has placed the final piece in that mystery of his life. He has stopped worrying about how he’s perceived by the public. He has exorcised people who have “struggled with jealousy, who don’t have a natural inclination towards generosity”. He has zero tolerance against bullshit. He likes how his career is shaping up—aside from Suicide Squad 2, For All Mankind is now filming a second season, and Kinnaman has three films coming out: The Informer; The Sound of Philadelphia and The Secrets We Keep; the last two, he avers, are his best work. “People who have watched me for a long time, it will remind them of my early career and for people who recently followed me, they will see a new side of me.

“I have goals that I’d like to achieve. Actor awards are such bullshit… until you get one. But yeah, that would be great. In future, I’d definitely want to be in a producing role and at some point, I’d like to also direct.

“I’ve said that I’d direct in five years time for about 10 years now.” That might change. His life is still a long and open road ahead.

Schrodinger’s cat posits two states that the creature can be in—dead or alive. But what if there’s a third option. That within the confines of the box, the cat is not there. It’s escaped. Unburdened from the stipulations of a thought experiment, free to do what it wants.

Originally published in the December 2019 issue