Prior to making his feature-length debut in Wong Ka Yan <王家欣>, Benny Lau (Wai-Hang) was a multi-hyphenate who had an award-winning novel (The Last Conversation) under his name and even served as a regular host for Commercial Radio Hong Kong before did his first short film titled Mr Right in 2008.
Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> tells the story of Chan Chun-Yin (Wong Yau-Nam), a carefree, guitar-loving young lad who lives with his sister Wai Yin (Prudence Liew) in Peng Chau. One day, Chun-Yin finds himself trapped in the cinema after accidentally overslept while watching a movie.
From there, he meets a beautiful ticket seller named Wong Ka-Yan (Janelle Sing) and immediately falls in love with her at first sight. As he is hoping to meet her again the following day, Chun-Yin finds out she’s already quit her job.
And so, his quest to locate Wong Ka-Yan begins, starting from calling in a radio show to every list of people with the same aforementioned name in the telephone directory.
Joining the “mission” is a rich girl who also goes by the name of Wong Ka-Yan (Karena Ng), as well as Chun-Yin’s best friend Paul (Tyson Chak).
Believe it or not, Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> was actually inspired by a true story. The main storyline — co-written by Benny Lau alongside his wife Petrina Wong Pui-Yin — is no doubt a fascinating, yet charming high-concept romantic comedy-drama. I also particularly enjoyed the nostalgic values that Lau accurately displayed the old-school settings and cultures of the 1990s (the movie itself is set in 1992), while successfully reflecting Hong Kong in the good old days. Those who live in the ’90s would probably remember the hardship of looking for a person using a phone book (remember that bulky paperback?) back then. And this was way before the internet and social media like Facebook even existed.
With the help of cinematographer Teddy Ng Hong-Wah, the movie also managed to capture the idyllic beauty and rustic charm of Peng Chau, a tiny island located far from the hustle and bustle of Hong Kong city.
Wong Yau-Nam is perfectly cast as the hopelessly romantic young lad, who’s willing to spend all his time and resources searching for his true love. Karena Ng delivers surprisingly strong support as Chun-Yin’s female friend, given the fact her previous acting performances in other movies are usually sub-par.
Rounding up the solid cast includes Prudence Liew as Chun-Yin’s strict but caring sister, Pai Piao as the disgruntled ticket taker Uncle Siu (the scene where he relives his days with his long-lost true love played by Suet Lee is particularly heartfelt), Pal Sinn as the guitar teacher and Gigi Leung as the woman in the present day looking for Chan Chun-Yin in Peng Chau.
But Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> is far from a perfect Hong Kong movie. The final resolution towards the ending is especially spotty and even left the movie somewhat hanging in the balance.
Still, such minor shortcomings are forgivable as Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> remains one of the best Hong Kong romantic-comedy dramas ever made in recent memory.
Following his promising debut in Wong Ka Yan <王家欣>, Benny Lau took three years to return to the director’s chair. And thankfully, it was worth the wait.
Like his 2015 movie, When Sun Meets Moon <某日某月> is another romantic comedy-drama that takes place in the 1990s. But instead of searching for a lost love, Benny Lau’s follow-up centres on the two high-school students — Moon (Kathy Yuen) and Sun (Daichi Harashima) — where both of them are fans of astrology. They first met each other while stargazing during a massive blackout across Hong Kong, before fates reunite them at the stationery shop owned by her uncle (Lawrence Cheng) where she works part-time.
Not surprisingly, it doesn’t take long before they fall for each other. But their love is short-lived when Sun’s father (Jackie Lui) send him to a boarding school temporarily before moving to the United States for further studies within a year. Meanwhile, Moon’s overprotective single mother (Maggie Shiu) forbids her to hang out with Sun, fearing that Moon’s long-distance relationship might end up with disappointment.
In order to keep in touch with each other, the two young lovers start exchanging letters with the help of Moon’s generous uncle and Sun’s kind boarding-school janitor (Danny Summer).
This time around, Benny Lau and Petrina Wong Pui-Yin’s screenplay doesn’t possess the same high-concept storytelling previously seen in Wong Ka Yan <王家欣>. The plot is pretty much straightforward and yet, it was efficiently told in a wonderful storybook-like approach. Lau has again evoked the genuine feel of the ’90s nostalgia, complete with Jacky Cheung’s hugely-popular ballad I Still Think You Are The Best <還是覺得你最好> and old-school vending machines that sell Hong Kong celebrity trading cards. And of course, it’s nice to see him bringing back the good old memories of how writing (physical) love letters used to be a thing before the convenient age of social media was even introduced.
Both Kathy Yuen and Daichi Harashima share amazing chemistry together, even though the sweet-natured Yuen looks too old to play a high-school student (she’s actually 30 years old). The supporting cast is equally decent, with Aimee Chan and Maggie Shiu excel the most as Sun’s caring boarding-school teacher and Moon’s taxi-driver mom respectively.
With Wong Ka Yan <王家欣> and When Sun Meets Moon <某日某月> under his belt, it’s safe to say that Benny Lau has now built himself a reputation as a great Hong Kong auteur of an old-school teenage romance.
Wong Ka Yan <王家欣>
When Sun Meets Moon <某日某月>