Dick Lee biopic Wonder Boy will be authentic, features drug culture and prostitution

Dick Lee says that Wonder Boys will not shy away from depicting the shenanigans that he and schoolmates at St. Joseph's Institution got up to in the early 1970s, including taking drugs.
Dick Lee says that Wonder Boys will not shy away from depicting the shenanigans that he and schoolmates at St. Joseph's Institution got up to in the early 1970s, including taking drugs. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singaporean composer Dick Lee's upcoming film Wonder Boy, based on his early years as a budding teenage singer-songwriter, will be as authentic as possible.

Speaking at a press conference to announce the $1.3 million movie on Friday (July 29), he says that the film will not shy away from depicting the shenanigans that he and schoolmates at St. Joseph's Institution got up to in the early 1970s, including taking drugs.

"Everybody in my school did," says Lee, who turns 60 next month. "The drug thing was part of that whole being cool and all that. Obviously I didn't continue with it, nobody was addicted as far as I know."

He will co-direct the film with Daniel Yam, who has helmed short films such as Gift (2013) and Promise (2014), and co-write the script with Ong Kuo Sin, who wrote and directed the 2013 film Judgement Day, starring Mark Lee.

Singer-songwriter and actor Benjamin Kheng, a member of popular local band The Sam Willows, will play Lee. It will be the second time the 25-year-old is playing the older musician - he also played Lee in TheatreWorks' 2012 musical National Broadway Company, commissioned as part of the Esplanade's 10th-anniversary celebrations.

Other cast members include television actress Constance Song as Lee's mother and Chen Yixi, son of veteran actors Edmund Chen and Xiang Yun, as one of the members in Lee's old band, The Wonder Boys. The role of Lee's father has not been cast yet.

Mediacorp actress Julie Tan will play Lee's love interest Linda.

The movie will cover three years in Lee's life, up to the release of his 1974 debut album.

Lee says: "In those years, I went from nerd to cool, to monster and then back so it's a big emotional journey that culminated in the album."

While Wonder Boy is based on his life, some of its characters are composites of a few actual people who were in his life.

He says: "You will see in the film an episode of prostitution because that was the area we were in. After school, we passed whore houses, prostitutes and drag queens. Bugis Street was just behind (the school). Going to school there made a big difference for us, who were exposed to that pop culture that was then forbidden. The more it was forbidden, the more we wanted it."

Earlier, he also mentioned about how he and his schoolmates would "fraternise with the girls... from CHIJ".

"I want to depict it as it was, that is very ,very, very important to me - to not make a sugar-coated version of the 1970s. I want to show it as it was because that's the Singapore I grew up with ."

His co-director Yam stressed that the story is "timeless" and will resonate with anyone who has had to "struggle to find ourselves".

He adds: "The heart of the story is really about hopes and dreams, so anybody with a dream, when you get this, will get the message that if you persevere long enough, you will get there, get the dream."

The movie is presented by production companies mm2 Entertainment and Bert Pictures, with the support of Singapore Film Commission. Lee's newly formed entertainment company, Dick Lee Asia, a joint venture with mm2, is a partner.

Filming will begin in October and the film is expected to be released in the third quarter of next year.