Foreword: Behind half the success of JinnyboyTV

Reuben Kang

His is a household name most young Malaysians are familiar with. Shaking his hand for the first time, I remember thinking what a pleasant personality he is and how easy it was to speak to him. We talked about his childhood when Reuben Kang recalled his primary school days as challenging, because he was never able to focus in class. While classmates figured out how to bundarkan 58 kepada puluh yang terdekat, he imagined and doodled an alternate reality with make believe cartoon characters - all within the pages of his exercise book. Little did he know that innocent scribbling became the learning foundation of Reuben’s understanding of film visualisation.

At 16 years old, while the idea of a career did not occur to most teenagers, it dawned on him that he had no idea what he wanted to do after school. He immediately got to work at a production house where he ironically turned up wearing slacks, a buttoned shirt, and a necktie. The internship exposed him to filmmaking first-hand and propelled Reuben’s passion for the industry. He continued working throughout his school years gaining even more experience and equipping himself with knowledge in every area of production. Reuben’s story is one not many know of, but definitely an example to learn from.

Who inspires you?

One of the biggest influencers in my life is Walt Disney. Nowadays when you look at society, not only is there a racial gap, but also age and other cultural differences. I love filmmaking in particular because it has a language of its own. Walt Disney was someone who could tell a story that could relate to anyone of any racial background, age, or time. The stories that made people laugh and cry in the 50s are the same stories we’re enjoying today - and that’s the power of filmmaking. That inspired me to do the same and make stories that are relatable to everyone.

In your family, you are the only person with a flair for arts. How was that like growing up?

My tertiary education wasn’t easy - one of the reasons why I had to explore the industry when I was 16 was because there was a high chance that I wasn’t going to college due to some financial difficulties. I knew I needed to work to support myself. My mum and I took out all our savings, applied for loans (which I paid back) [laughs]. The company that I was working with said they’ll sponsor me if I agree to be bonded to them for 10 years. However things didn’t go as planned and the scholarship fell through. I was so stressed out; I remember crying in my room because I didn’t know whether or not I should continue studying as I couldn’t afford it. My parents were very supportive, but they didn’t see much of me because I’d be at school and work all day.

Safe to say you’ve explored the entire spectrum of production. Why JinnyboyTV then?

Back in 2009 when I was still in JWT, I got to know Jin and he came up to me saying he wanted to do YouTube videos. Back then, YouTube was new and you don’t hear people making a living off it. I thought ‘I’m already making mainstream videos so why would I want to make YouTube videos?’. I’m glad that things worked out and we eventually made something out of it. When I was with the advertising agency, everything was client controlled and we didn't have that freedom of creativity. I felt I was losing that passion because everything became about money and satisfying the client - like determining how red a KitKat logo should be, honestly speaking. Working with YouTube gave us back that creativity. We were two guys with a tripod and camera just shooting for fun and we felt happy doing it. When you’re doing something with joy, it is reflected in your work

“I love filmmaking in particular because it has a language of its own.”
What do you think is the future of YouTube in Malaysia?

When I made the decision to leave a multinational advertising agency for an independent filmmaking role where we don’t even know where our next pay check was coming from, I knew I made the right decision because people were starting to look to YouTube for entertainment. People have stopped watching television like how they used to unlike in the past where they would wake up early to catch their favourite shows. At the end of the day, it goes back to when I was a little kid and why I got into filmmaking to begin with; I wanted to share my stories and do what Disney did. I consider myself to be more of a storyteller than a filmmaker.

What are your thoughts on bringing Malaysian storytelling through YouTube to the world?

I remember very clearly how I used to enjoy watching television commercials. There was this ruling called MIM (Made in Malaysia) where at least 70 percent of your commercials must be done in the country. Since they cancelled that ruling, commercials have been adapted from all over ASEAN and dubbed with local voiceovers. To me, that won’t work because it doesn’t resonate with the locals here, and I feel that’s why it’s losing out because we’re not sharing our stories - and we have plenty of stories to tell! One of the first video we did was called 'My GENERASI'. We did a skit on the things we did as a kid, covering a variety of things. It was a local sensation and hit a million views in just 4 days. The funny thing was that Malaysians weren’t the only ones watching it; this hit every part of the globe! We got a comment from one of the viewers saying, ‘We do it too here in Yugoslavia!’. In fact, a huge number of viewers weren’t actually from Malaysia and it dawned on me that we’re all quite alike in terms of the things we do. So why are we ashamed of putting up local content? We shouldn’t look to Hollywood for inspiration; I believe there’s still a lot of Malaysian-ness in us

Looking back at your history, at which point do you remember as being your lowest and how did you persevere?

To be honest, I don’t feel like I’ve got it all because I know where I came from. There were many times where I almost gave up because I doubted my passion and if it could provide. The 42 kilometre marathon that I recently ran gives a good reflection of how life is for me today. At 36 kilometres, my legs gave way - I had major cramps and I couldn’t even stand. I was in tears because I trained so hard and kept a strict diet, but I was having difficulties finishing the race. I told myself that I’ve made it this far and I shouldn’t give up now. When I completed the marathon, I was overwhelmed with joy; I couldn’t believe I did it.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever gotten?

Back when I was in college, I was about to start my internship. I was really nervous about it - I kept thinking that it was going to be the start of my career and everything that I had done led to that very moment. My lecturer said, “Eh chill la! Why are you so kancheong? This isn’t the start of anything nor is it the end. Just do it and stop thinking about it.” Never think that you will strike gold on your first hit, but keep on going at it.  

“We were two guys with a tripod and camera just shooting for fun and we felt happy doing it.”

Reuben grew up having to work for the things he wanted. From the very moment he decided he was going to pursue filmmaking, his days were filled with hard work, resilience, and constant learning. Despite the success and YouTube hits he’s achieved through JinnyboyTV, he has never allowed it to get to his head. Reuben’s firm stand on originality in the contents he release

⏩ #Foreword is a new series by Passion Portraits as an extension of our pursuit of creating a culture that celebrates one another. Hosted by creative leads of Malaysia, we set out to document stories of the people who’ve inspired our hosts to go above and beyond in doing what they do. This season, we have Bryan Chin, the CEO of Masses to take us on a trip around different locations in Klang Valley to meet some of the many people who inspires him.

“Never think that you will strike gold on your first hit, but keep on going at it.”