Review: 'Wonder Boy' is as brave as its main character is

Marcus Goh
Contributor

 

Wonder Boy (Golden Village Pictures)

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 96 minutes (~1.5 hours)

Julie Tan as Linda in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)

“Wonder Boy” is a Singaporean biographical drama in English about the teenage years of singer-songwriter Dick Lee, who is referred to as Richard in the film.

Set in 70’s Singapore, the film follows the journey of a 16-year-old musical prodigy who struggles to find his own identity in his turbulent teenage years. However, many obstacles stand in the way of fulfilling his destiny.

“Wonder Boy” is directed by Dick Lee and Daniel Yam, and written by Dick Lee and Ong Kuo-Sin. It stars Benjamin Kheng (Richard), Julie Tan (Linda), Zachary Ibrahim (Mark), Ryan Ang (Roy), Chen Yi Xi (Sammy), Constance Song (Richard’s Mother), Michelle Wong (Pat), Foo Fang Rong (Louise), and Gerald Chew (Richard’s Father). It is rated NC-16.

Michelle Wong as Pat in Wonder Boy (Golden Village Pictures)

“Wonder Boy” is MM2 Entertainment’s first foray into English films, which is a gamble given that local Chinese movies tend to do better than local English ones. Thankfully, it has avoided “safer” topics like NS (which is reaching a saturation point) and romantic dramas, choosing instead to look at 70’s Singapore through the lens of Dick Lee’s life. What really piqued my curiosity was the sensitive issues that the film covered, such as sex and drugs, and it’s quite impressive how far it could go given it’s NC-16 rating.

Wonder Boy (Golden Village Pictures)

Highlights

Amazing art design

The sets on “Wonder Boy” are unforgettably beautiful, evoking the atmosphere of Singapore in the 70’s. Even the props and furniture in the background look like they were painstakingly made or sourced to fit the aesthetics of the scene. There isn’t an aspect of the film that looks anachronistic, and it truly transports you into the 1970’s.

Benjamin Kheng as Richard in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)

Stylish direction and visuals

The beauty of the art design also shines through in the way the film is directed, with carefully framed shots that allow you to appreciate the scope and beauty of the locations. You can tell that there’s a great deal of reverence and admiration for the time period thanks to the treatment of the film, with solid production values and a nostalgic take on the story.

Foo Fang Rong as Louise in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)

Bold look at the less savoury aspects of Singapore

The sex scenes and depiction of vices in Singapore in the 70’s was one of the draws of the film, and it was an interesting look at what it was like back then. While “Wonder Boy” does tug on the nostalgia of a more straightforward Singapore, it doesn’t shy away from looking at the seedier aspects of the era. The best part is that there are no black and white answers, and the film is comfortable with showing how certain elements will always be ambiguous, just like in real life.

Gerald Chew as Richard’s father in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)1

Casual f-bombs

The movie drops a fair number of f-bombs, which is unsurprising given it’s NC-16 rating. However, unlike other films where the f-word is used to show how gritty and pretentious it is, “Wonder Boy” slides it into the dialogue very organically. As a result, the dialogue between the boys sound like the sort of banter that you’d actually hear from teenage boys, and it’s skilfully used to add another layer of realism to its depiction of the era.

Constance Song as Richard’s mother and Benjamin Kheng as Richard in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)

Letdowns

Benjamin Kheng’s performance as Richard is inconsistent

There are moments where Kheng’s performance is reminiscent of the real-life Dick Lee, down to the mannerisms and hand gestures. However, there are just as many moments where his acting lacks this resemblance and instead, has an acute self-consciousness that seems rather painful to watch. That’s not to say that his portrayal was bad, just that the same quirks and movements should have been present throughout the whole film, and not just in sporadic scenes.

Constance Song as Richard’s mother and Benjamin Kheng as Richard in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)

Feels like a series of events rather than a story

It’s true that adapting a biography into a proper story is difficult, since that means taking liberty with real-life events. However, the plot doesn’t present a clear objective for the protagonist. It feels more like various snapshots and key scenes in a person’s life, and there is no narrative drive towards a particular outcome. Of course, there are visual cues to show you that the main character has come full circle or has gained the acceptance of other characters. However, these aren’t evident in the actor’s performance itself.

Zachary Ibrahim as Mark in “Wonder Boy”. (Golden Village Pictures)

“Wonder Boy” is as brave as its main character is, especially when it comes to treading in areas which few other Singaporean films dare to. Visually, it’s a beautiful film that deserves to be lauded for its art design. However, the title character needed to be played by someone with more experience and more consistency in the role.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes, if you’re a fan of the 70’s.

Score: 3.1/5

“Wonder Boy” opens in cinemas:
– 3 August, 2017 (Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter, having written for “Police & Thief”, “Incredible Tales”, “Crimewatch”, and “Point of Entry”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.

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