Hubert Burda Media

When Heaven Meets Earth

In the Maldives for a Prestige exclusive, newlyweds VANNESS WU and ARISSA CHEO speak, for the first time, about their relationship

A flurry of excitement breaks out in a quiet corner at the Singapore Changi Airport. A young girl whips out her smartphone and discreetly — or so she thinks — snaps a picture of a gentleman with a guitar strapped to his back and his companion, an angel-face jeune fille. The duo looks up, exchanges knowing glances but says nothing.
Despite the blatant invasion of privacy, the couple seems to take it graciously in their stride. We suspect that seven years of being in the public eye has a lot to do with it. After all, the guitar-wielding one is the multi-hyphenate actor-producer-singer cum former Taiwanese F4 boybander Van Ness Wu, while she is Arissa Cheo, the popular Singaporean It girl and online entrepreneur of Carte Blanche X.
As the couple approaches me at the Singapore Airlines check-in counter for our flight to the Maldives, Cheo lets out a chirpy hello and introduces her husband of two months (at time of meeting). Close up and standing side by side, Wu, 36, and Cheo, 32 is a portrait-perfect exemplar, looks-wise, of compatibility.
Something about them just fits, not quite the same yet complementary, in the way that different species of flora come together to paint a unified picture of a Californian garden.
For starters, Wu is tall and Cheo, petite. He is easy-going while Cheo is more guarded. And judging by his frequent declarations of love for her on Instagram, he is sentimental, while she, pragmatic.
As with all well-known figures, much curiosity surrounds them. This reason alone has led to the accumulation of stories, theories and assumptions — often inaccurate or untrue — about their relationship. Take, for example, the tale of how they met. Popular belief has it that they first got to know each other on the set of Wu’s music video for his single “My Kingdom”. The truth? They had long been friends and were already dating for a year at that point.
“It’s funny how when someone is unable to get hold of the truth, it becomes convenient to make something up,” Wu, known to be protective over the details of his relationship, says with a hint of incredulity.
Very few are privy to the details of how the couple first met, so it’s time to set the record straight: Wu and Cheo were acquainted in Los Angeles in 2004 at a mutual friend’s party. Cheo was studying Communications and Film at the University of Southern California and Wu, a Californian native, was back from Taipei, where he is primarily based, to visit his family. “The first time I saw her, I was like, wow! She took my breath away,” Wu shares later, over a group dinner at the Four Seasons Kuda Huraa in the Maldives.
Cheo had quite a different, albeit hilarious, first impression. “A friend and I were watching an episode of Meteor Garden [the hip-and-hit Taiwanese TV series for young adults that rocketed F4 to fame] and my friend turned to me and cringed: “Look at these boys; they’re so annoying!” Cheo recalls, laughing. “We switched off the TV and I didn’t think much of it.”
That was until she met the man himself at the aforementioned party. “He was so different from his on-screen persona. I thought he was quite cute,” the 32-year-old admits, flashing her husband a smile.
Even so, the pair got to know each other better only after another meeting in Melrose Place. Wu was wandering about on his own when he bumped into Cheo, who was out shopping with a friend. They started talking and Wu asked for her number. The couple soon became friends and started to hang out regularly. They kept things platonic for over two years as they were both dating other people then. When Cheo broke up with her then-boyfriend, Wu, who had also become single, made his move. “We never quite had a first date; things just happened organically,” he says.
Their relationship, just like everyone else’s, has had its fair share of ups and downs. Wu tells us what he loves most about his wife is her heart. “It can be fierce but gentle and yet so giving,” he says. Once, the actor was filming in South Korea and had complained to her about the cold weather. Two days later, a package from Cheo arrived. In it, among other things, were a scarf and a handwritten letter.
Cheo shares a similar tale. In an attempt to surprise her, Wu once baked a gingerbread house from scratch. “Van ended up eating most of it!” Cheo snickers. “What’s great about him is his giving heart and childlike innocence. And how he always strives to be a better person.” These happy moments were fleeting. Two years later, the couple broke up. They reconciled after two years, only to separate again for a year. This time, the break-up was not amicable and they did not speak to each other the entire time they were apart.
The hiatus proved to be a good thing. Wu and Cheo agree that during the time apart, they grew positively as individuals and became more mature in their ways. The actor shares: “Fame came to me so quickly and I didn’t have a mentor to give me guidance. That may explain my presumptuous behaviour before.” It was the adoption of the Christian faith that helped Wu alter his view of the world. His wife agrees: “His faith changed many of his perspectives on life and made him someone who has stronger morals and values. These are some of the qualities I’ve always wished for in my better half.”
Cheo, too, acknowledges that there were changes in her. “I learnt to be less emotional and more giving. When we had a difference in opinion, I would be more receptive to a mutual compromise.” Wu went on bended knee in December 2012 when the couple was chilling out at Cheo’s Singapore home. “I had the ring for a good one year before I proposed,” he reveals. “I always knew it would be for her.”
Apart from their parents, close family members and friends, the couple kept the engagement a secret — but only because they were unable to pin down a wedding date and didn’t want to be pressed repeatedly for a confirmation. It was when Wu released a music video in June 2013 for “Marry Me”, a track from his latest album, A Different Man, that wedding speculations arose on the rumour mill. It didn’t stop at that. Soon after, there were also rumblings on the Internet about her father disapproving the union. Rumour has it that the elder Cheo, who runs a palm oil business, objected to Wu’s career in showbiz.
Cheo, exasperated at yet another unfounded rumour, reasons: “Every father, naturally, would be concerned about the man his daughter has chosen. That is regardless of whether he is in showbiz or not, wealthy or otherwise — correct?”
She goes on to explain: “Yes, my dad was worried initially because celebrities are stereotyped to be non-committal. But once my dad met Van and got to know him better, he knew that Van would do whatever it takes to take care of me.”
“It was more important to him that the man I was going to marry is a good person and able to take care of me both emotionally and financially,” she says. “Van is his own man and I respect him a lot for that.”
The couple wedded on November 15 last year in an intimate ceremony held at The Resort at Pelican Hill in Newport Beach, California. It was attended by 170 guests, mainly made up of Wu’s family and friends. For nostalgic reasons, they chose to marry in California as it was where they first met.
For Cheo’s side of the family, the couple hosted a beautiful banquet at The St Regis Singapore on January 5 earlier this year. It was a more elaborate affair that saw 400 guests in attendance, including celebrity friends such as Wang Lee Hom, Jerry Yan, Philip Ng, Jaycee Chan and Andy On. The fact that the celebrations were only held in these two locations — and not in Taipei as well — have raised some questions among Wu’s fan base. “Our families live in the US and Singapore so it makes sense for us to do that,” he explains.
“Our wedding is not a spectacle; it’s an intimate celebration among family and close friends. I love all my friends in Taiwan and the people I work with. They understood that planning one wedding is very stressful, let alone, two. And that’s why we only had the celebrations where our families are.” Just for the wedding, Wu and Cheo produced a mini-sized purple hardcover book. Titled A Fairytale Montage, it documents their relationship in seven chapters. Each features a childhood photo collage by Wu, poems by Cheo, excerpts from the Bible and pre-wedding photographs.
“You should have seen Van at the pre-wedding shoot,” Cheo exclaims, in the middle of dinner, putting down her fork to mimic him with some affected poses. “He was pulling all the moves and giving his game-on face to the camera.”
The book is meant to perpetuate the idea that fairy tales are not perfect stories. But are instead stories that have both happy and dark moments, very much like the couple’s own. “Our fairytale is a montage of the good and the bad — it’s realistic,” Cheo shares. The tome was distributed to close family and friends during the respective celebrations and proved to be quite a hit. At their Singapore wedding, I witnessed the couple receive countless felicitations from, among others, Jerry Yan, Wu’s former F4 band mate. During the customary roast-and-toast, Yan had asked Cheo: “What is the key to a happy relationship?”
“I think people tend to fall in love too easily,” she had said then. “This makes it easy for them to give up when things get tough. That shouldn’t be the way; you have to work at it,” she advises. “People also have this idealistic view of love. But we have to remember that love is not perfect.”
At dinner, Wu reminisces his wife’s response and reiterates: “Which is why during the wedding, we shared this quote with everyone: Love is not about loving the perfect person, but loving the imperfect person perfectly.” Cheo cites her parents as an example. “My dad may seem stern and serious but with my mum, he is completely different. They work out their issues and give in to each other. That’s how a relationship should be like.”
Now that the wedding is over and the stardust has settled, the couple is all geared up for the next chapter. Right after the Prestige shoot in the Maldives, Wu was scheduled to film a movie, titled Close Friends. After which, he will be working on another movie, The Priest from the Mountain directed by Chinese film luminary Chen Kaige. Cheo will be moving to Taipei, where her husband is based, and will be busy working on a revamp of her e-boutique Carte Blanche X and developing Sacred Hearts, a modish access-ories brand that she founded.
Due to the nature of their respective careers, it is inevitable that the couple will have to spend time apart. This, Wu says, is all part of the equation and something they are willing to compromise for. Cheo points out: “It’s not just about me adjusting to him; he is adjusting to me too.” Which is why it is important to the couple that they have enough time together before becoming parents. “Children are definitely in our plans,” Wu says. “But we need to be ready mentally and coherent in the way we deal with things,” Cheo adds.
Meanwhile, the couple’s new mission as husband and wife is to create as many happy moments as they can. This, for the both of them, is when they spend time alone and enjoy each other’s company.
But don’t think it involves anything fancy. For Wu, one of his favourite things to do with his wife is go on “fast food excursions” — driving along Santa Monica Boulevard in California and buying whatever they want from the fast food strip. The last time they did that, Wu and Cheo binged on chow from three different establishments. It had been fun fulfilling their fast food cravings, they say.
As Wu puts it: “The good times, I realise, aren’t about where you are but truly more about who you’re with.”