Kenny Wong Gets Personal In Short Film “Dystonia”

Kat Harlton

A multidisciplinary performing artist, Kenny Wong graduated from McGill University in Montreal with a Bachelor of Music Performance Degree on the violin. Throughout his musical studies, he knew he had to pursue acting as well and began researching for acting classes in Montreal. There, he found Straeon Acting Studios with renowned acting coaches Jock MacDonald and Isabel Farias and continues training there weekly.

Wong’s short film “Dystonia” premiered at the 2019 Toronto Shorts International Film Festival. Based on true events, Dystonia is a captivating story about violinist James Wong (played by Kenny Wong) who while studying at McGill University, is diagnosed with Focal Hand Dystonia: a neurological movement disorder causing the muscles of a player’s hand to involuntarily contract.

Dystonia was inspired by Kenny’s time studying violin performance at McGill University. He was committed to practicing six to eight hours a day in preparation for a performance exam when he noticed something wrong — the ring finger on his left hand was retracting under his instrument. After numerous visits to the hospital, he was diagnosed with Focal Hand Dystonia. The emotional chaos that resulted from it is depicted in the film as he tries to get a handle on his injury.

We had the opportunity to chat with Kenny, and learn more about Focal Hand Dystonia, why he felt he needed to share his story and what he learned in the process.

Kat: For those who are unaware, can you walk us through what Focal Hand Dystonia is? and how it affects day to day life?

Kenny: Focal Hand Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder that causes the muscles in one’s hand to involuntarily contract. It is also known as Musician’s Dystonia. When I was first diagnosed, everyday was extremely exhausting — both physically and emotionally. For eight years, I was stubborn as all heck, doing all I can to fix a problem that multiple doctors couldn’t resolve, rather than accepting it and adjusting to it. On a regular basis, there was always the irrepressible fear of missing notes whilst playing and nightmares of the condition getting worse. It wasn’t too long ago that I’ve accepted that this is a permanent condition, but it’s made it significantly easier to work on its betterment. Like learning how to walk again after a bad accident, reconnecting your brain to your muscles. This can only happen if you allow yourself to move on from what caused it.

Kat: Your recently released short film “Dystonia” is based on your life experience. Why did you feel it was important to share this story?

Kenny: There were three reasons I wanted to make this film — Focal Hand Dystonia is a condition that very few people know about and having experienced it, I thought it was important to spread awareness on it; Classical music as a film’s umbrella topic is quite rare and I’ve always wanted to tell a story with that genre as a “main character’; And being a violinist myself, I was tired of seeing terrible physical performances and syncing in films/tv shows of characters that are supposed to be professional musicians. ‘Dystonia’ features actors that double as professional musicians in real life, so you’ll see everything as it should be for a Classical music performance.

Kat: You’ve worked on many projects including Titans, Good Sam and the Bold Type, how did those experiences prepare you for writing your own short film? What did you learn during the writing process? Did anything surprise you?

Kenny: I think having the opportunity to read scripts by professional screenwriters is what really helped my own writing process. Being a part of those shows allowed for those opportunities. During ‘Titans’, I worked with the screenwriter of the Oscar-winning movie ‘A Beautiful Mind’, so I really made sure to pay attention to that specific script. How it was written, the formatting, the dialogue… everything about it. What I learned about screenwriting is that it’s really hard and really long. It envelops you. You could be working there for eight hours without knowing that much time had passed by. Then, you look at the page count and realize you only progressed six pages. But once you complete a draft, it is the biggest sense of accomplishment. So when I drafted the feature version of the script, it was a huge relief. Reducing that down to a short film format was easy.

Kat: What do you hope the audience will take away from the film?

Kenny: To never give up no matter how difficult things get. If it feels like you’ve plummeted, always remember that things can only go uphill from there. Also — to allow help. It gets harder and harder when you’re alone. It’s always easier to carry a 50 pound sack with two sets of hands, rather than just one.

For more on Kenny Wong, check out his IMDB

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