Meet the Vancouver actor who's been in 27 Hallmark movies — usually as Kenny
Nelson Wong's appearances have become a long-running wink to fans of the genre
Fans of the romantic comedy genre may know the movie 27 Dresses, in which Katherine Heigl's character serves as a bridesmaid an astonishing 27 times.
Vancouver actor Nelson Wong can relate to that number — his claim to fame is his 27 roles in Hallmark movies.
Wong's Hallmark ties started when he played Kenny Kwon, a sidekick to a detective, in the 2005 mystery movie Third Man Out for director Ron Oliver.
When Oliver started directing for Hallmark, he made sure to find a place for Wong — often as a character named Kenny.
"As Ron started working for Hallmark, Kenny started working for Hallmark. It's just grown into a thing. The fans seem to respond to it and 27 movies later, here we are," said Wong, laughing.
Wong moved to Vancouver when he was around six years old from New Zealand. He has been acting since 1999, and has also appeared in video games like Far Cry 4 and TV shows like Arrow and Riverdale.
He has said in previous interviews that he comes from a Jehovah's Witness background, and left the organization after he entered the film industry.
Wong said he did not really celebrate the holiday season until after he became an actor in Hallmark movies.
As Kenny, he has shown up in various odd jobs and clerical roles.
"Kenny has been a kitchen TV show director, a wedding planner. He's been a concierge at a plaza. He's been a baby daddy," said Wong.
"The whole time, I've been thinking Kenny is still undercover as a detective. He's just got these identities that allow him to go to these different universes."
A source of comfort
Hallmark Christmas movies — and close cousins on the Lifetime network and Netflix — have become an essential part of the holiday season. This year, Hallmark is releasing 41 Christmas or holiday themed movies, many of them filmed in and around Vancouver.
Vancouver director Linda-Lisa Hayter, whose own Hallmark movie Five More Minutes comes out this season, said the core value of the film is love.
"Whether it's romantic love, whether it's parental love, whether it's beautiful friendships, sisterhood, brotherhood, I think it's just love," said Hayter.
She said the movies are a source of comfort during hard times.
"We're going through so much trauma in our lives everywhere on the planet," she said.
"You've got beautiful lights. You've got some sweet music. It's like having a blanket around you. It's something that is soft, and comfortable and it feels good."
The movies have sometimes been criticized as being too schmaltzy, something Wong contends with in his other role as an acting coach with Haven Studio.
"[Actors] struggle with the Hallmark genre sometimes. They think it's a little too positive, too happy. I'm reminding these actors who always want to play the drama ... like The Bourne Identity," said Wong.
"These Hallmark movies are actually more true to real life, I'd say — nice people trying their best given their circumstances."
Wong said his experience on the Hallmark set has led to other opportunities.
"They've afforded me so much in the way of working relationships and oftentimes on set and moments on screen, I can't help but be in the Christmas spirit when I'm doing them now."
Adapting for the times
A more serious criticism — that the stories lack diversity and almost always skew heterosexual — has been met with efforts to change from studios.
"Personally, Hallmark's gone through a big change over the last few years and they are far more inclusive now, and I think that's attracting a far larger audience," said Hayter.
Wong said he's seen improvements over the past decade.
"There has been such a great movement ... [and] people are not satisfied with homogenous depictions of families, work families or Christmas," he said.
"It's kind of interesting to watch over the past decade as an LGBTQ Asian-Canadian artist myself to go into this world and to get to develop within it ... It's nice to be able to graduate from the clerical principal roles to actually have a relationship and to have belonging within these seasonal holiday pictures."
With files from On The Coast and The Early Edition