Wang was born and raised in Hong Kong, and named after his father's favorite movie star, John Wayne. When he was 17, his parents arranged for him to move to the United States to study, to prepare for medical school. Wang, however, soon put this plan aside when his 'eyes were completely opened' by new experience, and as he turned to the arts, studying film and television at California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.
^G. Allen Johnson (October 18, 2008). "Wayne Wang's 'Princess' paves way on Internet". San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved 2008-10-18. His "The Princess of Nebraska," a San Francisco-shot tale of a young Chinese immigrant dealing with an unwanted pregnancy, is thought to be the first feature film by a major director to premiere – without a domestic theatrical or DVD release – on the Internet.