Actor and musician, Kenny Wong, bravely shares his own emotional experience through the short film, DYSTONIA, which premiered at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival. Read more about focal hand dystonia and how it affected his journey as a creative person below.
Tell us about your short film, DYSTONIA, and how is it based on your own personal experience?
Dystonia is about a young violinist who, while attending university, is diagnosed with Focal Hand Dystonia and is forced to deal with the consequences that result from this incurable condition. The story was originally written as a feature film and we took a number of scenes from that script, reworked it, and made a short version of it. In my second year of university, I was practicing six to eight hours a day for my performance exam when I started feeling some tightness in my left hand. I didn’t think much of it until one day, during a violin lesson, my teacher noticed that my ring and pinky fingers were curled under my instrument. I would restart, trying my best to keep the fingers up… but to no avail. I broke down, knowing something was terribly wrong. And sure enough, the doctors diagnosed me with Focal Hand Dystonia, an incurable condition that I still struggle with to this day.
When writing your story, what did you discover along the way and what did you end up highlighting about your journey with being diagnosed with Focal Hand Dystonia? What did you hope to communicate with people watching?
When writing the feature, the biggest thing I realized is how many people tried to help me through this terrible period of my life. At the time, I didn’t appreciate it as much as I should have because I was lost in this emotional bubble caused by the Dystonia. But when I was recalling events and jotting them down, I realized how lucky I was. I ended up highlighting my relationships (whether it was with my girlfriend, my mentors, or my string quartet) and how the Dystonia affected them. I consider struggling with the infliction like watching the hero fight the monster in a monster film. However, it’s the love story between the family and friends that catches everyone’s hearts.
What was the most challenging part of writing your own story? What was the most rewarding for you?
The most challenging part was definitely reliving everything. I can’t tell you how many times I got emotional during the writing process, sometimes even needing to step away for a bit. The most rewarding part is realizing how lucky I am to still be playing today. That it didn’t get progressively worse throughout the years, instead remained bearable.
DYSTONIA premiered at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival in November. How did it feel finally sharing your story with an audience?
It was scary yet exciting. Because Dystonia is such a personal story, it was nerve-wrecking letting everyone experience the worst time of your life with you. On the other hand, sharing those experiences gives a huge sense of relief— an official acceptance to this part of my life— and that’s rather exciting.
Tell us more about yourself. You are a very creative person– what inspired you to pursue it all (music, acting, filmmaking, etc)? What do you hope to do in the future?
I grew up as a musician, beginning the violin when I was just six-years-old. I was inspired by a family friend whose violin recital I attended and asked my folks about pursuing the instrument. Twenty-three years later, here we are. But during that time, I fell in love with acting. I can’t recall what inspired me in high school to do drama, I just knew I had to do it.
Filmmaking came as a result of acting, knowing it was important for me to be creative in order to succeed instead of waiting around and hoping. So, yeah! My plan is to continue weaving through the three mediums, as long as it keeps me creating and performing. It keeps me sane and constantly active, rather than feeling stuck in just one thing.
For anyone else going through their own physical and emotional struggles but want to continue to create, what advice would you give them that you wished you had from the start?
Great question. Talking to someone is the first thing that comes into mind. Whether a therapist, a family member, or a friend. When you open your heart to someone, they will open their heart back and I think that helps put a lot of things into perspective. But not just once, or twice. Keep doing it. It doesn’t even need to be about your current struggles, you just need to not be alone. I wish I did that when I was dealing with Dystonia. Maybe I wouldn’t have waited seven years to finally accept the permanency of this condition. Maybe I would’ve made necessary postural adjustments sooner and be that much better today. I’ll never know now.
At this point in your life, if you could pick one superpower, what would it be and why?
Flying. For sure. I dream about it at least once a month. But no wings. Superman style.
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