Benjamin Kheng to play music personality Dick Lee in new film Wonder Boy

SINGAPORE: It is a double win for Singapore’s own Mad Chinaman Dick Lee. The singer-composer-songwriter-playwright is making his film directorial debut, as well as teaming up with film and TV content producer mm2 Asia in a joint venture company called Dick Lee Asia.

Channel NewsAsia understands that Dick Lee Asia will be a company dealing in music, creative direction, consultancy and other services. The joint venture will see mm2 holding a 51 per cent stake in the company, with Lee holding the remaining 49 per cent.

The film, titled Wonder Boy, will be written by Lee and produced by mm2 Entertainment, a subsidiary of mm2 Asia and Bert Pictures, in partnership with Dick Lee Asia.

Set in early 1970s Singapore, Wonder Boy will tell the story of young Richard, a teenager and aspiring musician who comes from a rich family - a constant source of antagonism between him and his working class schoolmates. The coming-of-age journey of ambition, love and music will start filming in Singapore and Penang in October on a working budget of S$1.3 million, and is set to open in cinemas in the third quarter of 2017.

So will it be a no-holds barred, uncensored and raw depiction of the Singapore Cultural Medallion award winner’s entire life on the silver screen?

“As no-holds barred as ratings will allow,” Lee told Channel NewsAsia. “We were debating on 'biopic' versus 'inspired by' and we ended up with 'inspired by'. Not because we didn’t want to put things in, but because there are several characters that are being made into composite characters and we don’t want living people to come accuse me of this and that. So we had to fictionalise some of the characters.”

Lee also said that the most important thing for him would be to depict the era correctly and truthfully, and will be looking to co-director Daniel Yam for help with the technical side of directing a film.

Stepping into the starring role will be Benjamin Kheng, who has shot to fame as a member of the Sam Willows.

Said Kheng: “We had four to five hours not just talking about the parallels of our lives as musicians, artistes and people living in very interesting times, but also the music scene back then as opposed to the music scene now. And going through his music catalogue.

“Dick, being such a household name in Singapore, there is so much you can find out from the Internet and from people,” continued Kheng. “But this story isn’t about that. It’s about everything that is unseen. It’s about a man trying to create a voice for himself.”

Kheng also confessed to feeling a real affinity for the character.

“Yes, for me, I’m trying to spend as much time with Dick as possible,” he said. “But I’ll also try to bring a bit of my experience to the character ... And how I’m going through a lot of things he was going through at that age as well. And that’s honestly the best part of this experience.”

Lee, who revealed that Kheng was his first choice for the role, had nothing but praise for the young musician.

“Of course he was my first choice, because he looks exactly like me but a bit older,” the former Singapore Idol judge quipped. “Honestly, he’s a musician and that was a very important criteria in casting for this film. He has to sing and play. I mean, his voice is like a thousand times better than mine. And hearing it on a microphone, like today, singing a song (Lee’s Life Story) together that was written 42 years ago, gives me goosebumps.”

“I think he has that spiritual thing that will embody my character,” concluded the 59-year-old.