Wonder Boy is a biopic of the Singapore music icon Dick Lee, directed and written by Lee himself with co-director Daniel Yam and co-writer Wang Guo Shen. The film stars popular local musician Benjamin Kheng as Lee.
Superficially, Wonder Boy is an enjoyable movie, much in the same way as most of the Transformers movies have been entertaining.
Meaning: if you switch off your brain, ignore its flaws and focus on its strengths, Wonder Boy is a fascinating insight into the teenage Lee, Singapore in the 70s and the roots of why the music scene is what it is today.
Definitely for the over 50s, Wonder Boy is a nostalgic ride, as Penang quite remarkably evokes 70s era Singapore – which in itself is a comment on Singapore’s attitude towards conservation.
For modern youth, the main appeal would be the young actors like Kheng and Linda Tan, not to mention a glimpse into what life was like in Singapore for their parents.
Then there is the music – suitable for the era portrayed and comfortably nostalgic – and the powerful though often now clichéd theme of how the authorities crushed the local arts and music scene in the 70s.
A ban on long hair and rock music served as personal obstacles for Lee’s ambitions but also on a macro level developed an irrational prejudice against local musicians and artists that has festered till this day.
And what about the flaws of Wonder Boy? Considering that this was Lee’s first time out as film director-writer and the inexperience of much of the cast, one can easily fault these particular areas. The narrative is awkward and often perplexing as characters appear and disappear without much internal logic.
Unfortunately, these missteps are compounded at the very end, with the cringeworthy sequence of Lee arriving in an Audi (an expensive car is a sure sign of Singaporean success) to his former family home to sing “Home” – the very popular National Day song that Lee penned.
That scene really destroyed any lingering suspension of disbelief and came across as vain self-aggrandisement on the part of Lee.
Unfortunate because despite its flaws, Wonder Boy has its merits and deserves to be seen by as many Singaporeans as possible for the many reasons listed above, but somehow Lee managed to sabotage all his good intentions with a naked play to the gallery.
Wonder Boy opens in cinemas islandwide today.
… still there’s more …