When one thinks of Dick Lee, what usually comes to mind is the songwriter behind the stirring and popular National Day song, Home.
Older viewers might remember the gifted kid who rose to fame on the Talentime series in the 1970s. Others might think of the dapper pianist who penned the feel-good musical Fried Rice Paradise, or the sharptongued judge on singing contest Singapore Idol.
With Wonder Boy, a film inspired by his teen years which opens tomorrow, the multi-hyphenate – who has been a singer, songwriter, fashion designer and creative director – adds another title to the list: feature film director.
Photo: MM2 Entertainment
Budgeted at $1.3 million, the biopic shows Lee to be a lonely schoolboy, his hopes of becoming a musician performing original songs scoffed at by everyone, save for a few.
He meets Linda (played by Julie Tan), a girl who is his entree to parties in which a small group of privileged locals and expatriates have fun behind tightly closed doors.
Rated NC16, Wonder Boy depicts the parties, where substances are inhaled and partygoers touch one another.
“It was an experimental time,” Lee tells The Straits Times.
What took place in those posh bungalows stood in contrast to Singapore at large: This was a time when long-haired men were viewed as degenerates and songs that contained less-than-perfect English or dialects were banned from radio.
Lee makes no apologies for enjoying illicit pleasures in his youth, nor is he bitter about the setbacks he suffered at the hands of repressive teachers, class bullies and government language rules that stymied the sale of his early albums.
“I want to show what happened, which made me who I am,” he says.
He told the press last year that he wanted the movie to depict the reality of his youth, which included his view that “everyone” did drugs at his alma mater, St Joseph’s Institution. He later took back that statement.
It was Mr Melvin Ang, chief executive of media company mm2 Asia, who in 2013 proposed that Lee write a screenplay about his life and also direct the film – “two massive jobs”, says Lee.
The performer baulked at first.
“Why? What for? I had never done a movie, except for writing scores. Directing a film was never on my bucket list,” he says. Besides, he was busy with other work, including a stint as creative director of the 2015 National Day Parade, marking Singapore’s golden jubilee.
But last year, he changed his mind.
“I did a 60th birthday concert, which looked back at my life. I suddenly felt nostalgic. Then I said, ‘Okay lah, maybe.'”
Veteran writer and director Wang Guo Shen wrote a draft of the screenplay, based on interviews with the composer, which Lee fleshed out with biographical detail.
The film covers his life from age 16 to 18, just after the release of his first album, Life Story, and before he enters national service. Some events that in real life take place years later have been compressed into that period, while a few characters are composites of several people.