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Wong Ka Yan

Karena Ng, Wong Yau-Nam and Tyson Chak look for Wong Ka Yan.
Chinese: 王家欣  
Year: 2015  
Director: Benny Lau  

Raymond Wong Bak-Ming,Ng Kin-Hung

Writer: Benny Lau, Petrina Wong  

Wong Yau-Nam, Karena Ng, Tyson Chak Hoi-Tai, Prudence Lau Mei-Kwan, Janelle Sing, Pai Piao, Sin Lap-Man, Gigi Leung Wing-Kei, Hacken Lee Hak-Ken, Patrick Tam Yiu-Man, Kelvin Kwan Chor-Yiu, Heidi Li Jing-Yi, Suet Lei, Wan Yeung-Ming, Kandy Wong, Mark Cheung Lui, Wan Kwong, Mimi Kung Tse-Yan, Isabel Chan Yat-Ning, Terry Zou Wen-Zheng, Sunny Luk Kim-Ching, Carrie Ho Ka-Lai, June Lam

The Skinny: Pleasant and nostalgic coming-of-age tale with a lovely location, a creative concept and mostly good execution. A few storytelling mistakes and one unfathomable missed reveal hurt the experience, as does Wong Yau-Nam’s poorly-handled performance. Still, all things considered, Wong Ka-Yan is a nice little Hong Kong movie.
by Kozo:

Writer-director Benny Lau’s Wong Ka Yan is a nice little movie with a fine premise and setting, though its missteps can make it difficult to fully enjoy. But hey, it’s still pretty nice. Other Shine guy Wong Yau-Nam stars as Chan Chun-Yin, an overgrown kid who plays the guitar and lives on the outlying island of Peng Chau in 1992. After falling asleep at a softcore porn movie in Kowloon’s Dynasty Theatre, Chun-Yin awakens to discover that he’s trapped inside the cinema (the workers apparently don’t clean the place before closing – that’s professional). However, he befriends a pretty ticket seller named Wong Ka-Yan (Janelle Sing), who waits for him outside the cinema until a higher-up comes to unlock the gate. After Chun-Yin walks Wong Ka-Yan to the bus, a connection is born but he goes overboard by deciding that she must be “The One”. However, when he returns the next day to woo her, she’s already quit the job.

Chun-Yin begins to look for Wong Ka-Yan, first by calling in to a radio show and then, at the suggestion of a mouthy young woman (Karena Ng) also named Wong Ka-Yan (Yan for short), by calling every Wong in the phone book. Persistence, thy name is Chan Chun-Yin. The phone book strategy is slow but Chun-Yin finds many other people named Wong Ka-Yan. Meanwhile, Yan tags along on Chun-Yin’s search because she’s a cynical young person and wants to see him fail. But Yan also helps Chun-Yin by befriending Uncle Siu (Pai Piao), the Dynasty Theatre’s ticket taker, who might have some info on Wong Ka-Yan. She also introduces Chun-Yin to a guitar teacher (Pal Sin) named Wong Ka-Yan, who introduces them to a private detective (Wan Yeung-Ming) also named Wong Ka-Yan, who sends them to an old woman (Suet Lei) who isn’t named Wong Ka-Yan but is Wong Ka-Yan’s grandmother. But is she the grandmother of the Wong Ka-Yan that they’re looking for?

Massive plot hole first: Someone at the cinema must have contact information for Wong Ka-Yan, and the film partially addresses this by having Yan and Uncle Siu search the manager’s office. However, they never find Wong Ka-Yan’s address or phone number, and the manager of the cinema is never seen or heard from. You’d think that with Chun-Yin’s desperate search and so many Wong Ka-Yans (at least 50-60 are found) coming out of the woodwork, the Dynasty Theatre manager would at least say, “Okay, I’ll give her a call for you,” but that possibility is never mentioned. Sorry, but when your entire film hinges on a crazy phone book search for a single person, this plot hole must be considered, otherwise your movie ends up looking illogical. The end credits indicate that Wong Ka Yan is based on a true story, so I suppose someone addressed this in real life. If that’s the case, why not in the movie?

Putting aside that story problem – and we have to, otherwise the movie holds no water – Wong Ka Yan does a number of positive things. The encounters with various Wong Ka-Yans are drawn with light humor and audience-pleasing emotion, and many of the relationships are enjoyable. Also, the island setting is pleasant; Peng Chau possesses a relaxing rural atmosphere, and the film’s washed-out color transmits a sense of old-timey charm. The cinematography is less filtered during the film’s framing device, which takes place in 2015 and features an unnamed woman (Gigi Leung) who visits Peng Chau in search of Chan Chun-Yin. There’s obviously a connection between this mystery woman and Chun-Yin, and her identity – plus the mystery of Wong Ka-Yan’s whereabouts in 1992 – generates solid interest throughout the film’s 97-minute running time. As a plot device and metaphor for Chun-Yin’s personal growth, the search for Wong Ka-Yan works reasonably well.

Wong Yau-Nam’s acting is a stumbling block, though. Chun-Yin is supposed to be an immature young romantic who grows up while searching for his ideal love – which explains his eventual change from cheery innocent to serious mope. The problem is that Wong’s take on the innocent Chan Chun-Yin is inordinately backwards and childlike, and includes a strange tantrum that makes him seem unhinged. Wong Yau-Nam is a decent actor but he botches this performance, or maybe Benny Lau mistakenly pushed Wong to act outside his range. Either way, Chun-Yin comes off as deluded and vaguely unbalanced – not exactly good traits for the protagonist of a nostalgic coming-of-age romance. Thankfully, Wong receives help from Karena Ng, who makes Yan endearing beneath her petulant kong lui exterior. Her acting isn’t exemplary but it’s a big step up from Ng’s previous work. The best performance in the film likely belongs to Prudence Lau, who’s excellent as Chun-Yin’s strict but caring older sister.

Wong Ka Yan culminates with numerous crying scenes and maudlin revelations, and while the waterworks are overdone, the sentiments themselves are nice enough to lift the film from mediocrity to minor surprise. Unfortunately, the film also leaves one plotline hanging, which is a disappointment since it’s the story thread that carries the most affect, plus there’s no apparent reason to hide the outcome from the audience. If Benny Lau is trying to say something by denying this reveal, well, that’s great for him but it’s not clear why he does it. These flaws hurt, but Wong Ka Yan is still quite likable for a small Hong Kong film. It’s got a creative concept, enjoyable themes and identifiable emotions, plus it never gets overly pretentious. Also, Peng Chau seems quite pleasant. Nowadays, it’s noteworthy when a movie simply feels like a Hong Kong film, and Wong Ka Yan certainly does. That it’s a nice movie only helps. (Kozo, 12/2015)



DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Universe Laser (HK)
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Mandarin and Cantonese Language Tracks
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese subtitles
*Also available on Blu-ray Disc
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