Chris Kyme (pictured) continues his ‘Postcard from Hong Kong’ series and this time he tells the story of The Willde man of Hong Kong.
It’s been a while since I did one of these, partly because I got lazy (topics, topics) and partly because it’s been a tad quiet on the industry front what with lockdowns, restrictions (no bars being open doesn’t exactly oil the cogs of the creative machinery). Alas, just recently I bumped into an old friend and industry mucker who’s just launched a rather eccentric new venture which is odd to say the least. As he is.
When I first arrived in this (still great) city I started to accustom myself with who’s who on the local ad scene, most of whom turned out to be ageing expats at that time, as well documented in my book ‘Made in Hong Kong’. One name that did pop up again and again was this man called Willde. I said “What sort of name is that? Does he run around in a loincloth jumping from tree to tree?”
So eventually I get to meet the somewhat diminutive fella with his mop of premature grey hair, he looked like he was once in The Monkees but, from what began to gather, was extremely influential within his agency, JWT.
Willde Ng (pictured below on right) was in fact the first ever local creative person to get promoted to be the Executive Creative Director of a major international agency. So I took note of that. What’s more, at that time, the proof of his influence was absolutely in the pudding of the work coming out of that local Hong Kong shop.
Campaigns for clients like MTR, Towngas, Hong Kong Telecom (now PCCW) were always on show at the local and regional awards, so this man was no slouch.
In particular a spot warning the Hong Kong public against the dangers of noise pollution made me completely jealous and was typical of the simplicity of ideas coming out of JWT at that time, and they were definitely one of the top 5 agencies in town at that time, competing for gongs.
So anyway, it wasn’t long before the wild man moved on (quite while you’re on top) and announced he was moving into direction, setting up an extension of top Hong Kong production house Film Factory called Another Factory. And so he carved out another very significant career, building up an impressive showreel over the years.
From there his career took a few twists and turns with new ventures such as think-tank operation he called Thinking Without Thinking, taking on projects like coining slogans for Chief Executives as well as producing and starring in a highly enjoyable TV travel show series.
So what’s he up to today?
Ever a bit of the wacky side, he tells me he’s taken up a shop space in Central which he’s converted into a sort of walk-in library app (always doing the opposite to everyone else). In this tiny cupboard of a space which used to be an old print shop, he’s put on display his entire collection of creative books, with which he wants to encourage youngsters to pop in, sit down, relax and be inspired.
I’ll let him describe it in his words: “With my stupid idea, I am thinking to group my books into 4 categories of advertising, photography, fashion and design. It will be a place for young people to pick a subject to read from my list on internet. I will recommend ten books or old videos to be put on the desk for them to read. They can also go through my entire collection to be isolated to think deeply. Which I call it “Think in the box” under the name “One man Library”. They can also invite me to share a conversation. My intention is to help young people to get inspiration from the books, magazines and videos. This is a place not to count any profit margins. I owe Hong Kong a lot, a bit of my pay back time.”
So I arranged to pop by there one day to have a look at this ‘box’, the rickety old door to which faces out onto Wellington Street in Central and stepping inside I couldn’t help feeling I was entering into one those holes in the ground in The Hobbit. The name in Chinese on the front of the old door translates into something like ‘First you have to lose in order to win’ or ‘Book first, win later’ but the play on characters is a little more clever than that.
Inside it’s literally tiny, like a small office, within which he’s got a desk, some odds and ends, loads of books, an armchair and some lights. It’s a bit like condensing the contents New York Public library into a telephone booth flavoured with some junk shop chic.
Having said all of that, it’s brilliant and contains many treasures, including old props from his past work. I can imagine spending an afternoon there sipping tea (okay then, whisky) debating obscure typefaces or the principles of film lighting.
So it’s an open invitation then. If you’re in the area, look up the Willde man. The address is 131A, Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong.