Film review: Hong Kong drama Wong Ka Yan finds humanity in lost connections
Benny Lau's directing debut looks at how people connected before social media
There’s a distinct possibility that Wong Ka Yan will, like its deeply romantic protagonist, struggle to find its target audience on its first try and only belatedly intrigue them in an auspicious encounter years later. But I stand to be proven wrong for this composed feature debut by radio host Benny Lau Wai-hang, who manages to extract a heartwarming touch of humanity from a deceivingly simple story about people losing contact.
Directing from a script he co-wrote with his wife, the former TV anchor Petrina Wong Pui-yin, Lau’s 1992-set, based-on-true-events drama begins with an innocuous crush that Peng Chau native Chun-yin (Wong You-nam) develops on a perky box-office girl on one ordinary evening. It soon transpires that “Wong Ka-yan” – the name he remembers from her nametag – has quit her cinema job and is never to be found there again.
While his call-out on radio fails to reach his dream girl, another spoiled daughter named Wong Ka-yan (Karena Ng Chin-yu) gets in touch as a prankish move to taunt him – only to become enthralled by the lovesick young man’s resolve. With the help of both his new female friend and best buddy (Tyson Chak Hoi-tai), who also turns out to share the special name, Chun-yin goes on a fanatical quest to track down every Wong Ka-yan in Hong Kong.
Less a romantic comedy than it is a delicate look back on how people connected in the pre-social media age, Lau’s film goes in surprising directions as Chun-yin inadvertently facilitates relationships, both new and lost, involving various Wong Ka-yans he chances upon. By avoiding the conventional types of narrative resolution, Wong Ka Yan instead serves up a beautiful reminder of the near-extinct gratification of tangible human connections.
Wong Ka Yan opens on October 22