Dick Lee: Julie Tan “surprised all of us” on Wonder Boy set

We speak to the first-time movie director and his star-studded cast during our visit to the set of the upcoming film in Malaysia

Director Dick Lee (centre) and the cast of 'Wonder Boy'
Director Dick Lee (centre) and the cast of 'Wonder Boy'
02 Nov 2016

Director Dick Lee (centre) and the cast of 'Wonder Boy'

Photos: Tammi Tan
Videos: Vina Chia

DIRECT FROM PENANG: Julie Tan and Benjamin Kheng have gotten along so well on the set of Wonder Boy that when Toggle sat down for an interview with them in Penang last Friday (Oct 28), it was almost impossible to get serious answers out of them as they naturally delved into demonstrating their camaraderie on camera with loads of quips.

“It was terrible, the worst experience; we were arguing all the time,” complained Benjamin, as his onscreen love interest played along with the sarcasm by rolling her eyes. The 26-year-old singer stars as Richard, who later comes to be known as Dick Lee, in the semi-autobiographical take on the musical maestro’s pre-fame years, while Julie portrays a mysterious girl named Linda.

Their “official” answers, however, are much more flattering. “He’s very helpful and talented,” said Julie, who also could not help but constantly fan girl over the fact that her co-star is “Benjamin Kheng from the Sam Willows, oh my god!” Ben, on the other hand, praised Julie’s intensity and professionalism, particularly during “some really tough scenes”.

One of these “tough scenes” is speculated to be a hot and heavy bedroom sequence, but details are being kept tightly under wraps. When we caught up with Julie a week before the Penang set visit, all the 24-year-old would divulge was that “everyone will be in for a shock” upon seeing it, as she said at the imaging session for Channel 8’s The Lead.

However, Dick, who is co-directing the film with Daniel Yam, warned us not to expect anything “too explicit” as there are ratings to consider. That said, he echoed Julie’s cryptic comment about viewers being in for a surprise, as “you would not have seen Julie nor Ben like that before”.

“We won’t have any nudity, but it’s expressed so well,” said the 60-year-old. “At first we were tentative on how far they would go, but Julie surprised all of us – she was all for it and she trusted us, and I think (she would have been game to do an actual nude scene)!”

(Continued on next slide)

Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan
Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan
02 Nov 2016

Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan

If you follow Ben and Julie on their social media accounts, you might know of their recent “Chinese idiom battle”, where they took turns to recite Chinese idioms until the loser was left speechless.

Despite Julie’s higher proficiency in Mandarin than Benjamin, he ended up winning not just that first round, but also the “live” rematch we made them engage in during our interview (watch it unfold in our video here).

But don’t expect to see Benjamin join Julie in Channel 8 projects any time soon. “I do love Mandarin but you can tell when someone is not comfortable speaking a language, and I want to be comfortable (before I take on any Mandarin-speaking roles),” he said.

Speaking of being comfortable in a language, Julie, who cut short her stay in New York City to do Wonder Boy, confessed that one of the hardest things to get used to was the fact that “everyone speaks very good English”. However, her stint at the New York Film Academy still proved fruitful, as she learned to “reconnect with (her) sensitive side”.

Being involved in Wonder Boy has not only brought her back to a familiar continent and culture, but to the very state where she was born. “I feel at ease here,” she said. “Especially with Benjamin Kheng around! (laughs)”

Click through for more photos and interviews from our visit to the set of Wonder Boy in Penang:

Constance Song felt like a real mother on set
Constance Song felt like a real mother on set
02 Nov 2016

Constance Song felt like a real mother on set

The eyes of the 41-year-old actress and restaurateur, who plays Richard’s mother Elizabeth Lee, lit up at the mention of the three local boys, aged eight to 13, who play her younger onscreen sons John, Peter and Andrew.

“I must say, they are so well-behaved!” she gushed. “Filming is tough and the hours are long, but they always sit quietly and listen. In fact, I think the older actors are naughtier! (laughs)”

The tiny thespian who plays Dick’s youngest brother Andrew, Jensern Lim, has a special place in her heart. “When I go back to Singapore, he sends me messages on Facebook saying ‘I miss you’ and asking, ‘Constance mummy, when are you coming back?’” she gushed. “He makes me feel like I’m really his mother.”

Benjamin Kheng doesn’t believe he would’ve made it big in the 70s
Benjamin Kheng doesn’t believe he would’ve made it big in the 70s
02 Nov 2016

Benjamin Kheng doesn’t believe he would’ve made it big in the 70s

How do Benjamin and Dick think they would have turned out if they had switched lives? While Dick believes he “could do so much more” because of today’s advanced technology, the younger artiste doubts he would have achieved the former’s level of success.

“I would have had a hard time making the choices that he made, and I would have played it a bit safer,” Benjamin theorised.

Dick disagrees. “You’ve done a lot more than others your age, I feel that you would have done the same as me,” he explained encouragingly. “I must admit that I had given up hope on your generation a little bit, but (you are) brilliant.”

Dick Lee wanted to pay tribute to his late sister
Dick Lee wanted to pay tribute to his late sister
02 Nov 2016

Dick Lee wanted to pay tribute to his late sister

One major change Dick made between real life events and the movie was to push his sister Patricia’s untimely death forward from 1984 to the 70s, which is when Wonder Boy is set.

“I wanted to pay tribute to how she inspired me so much, and my closest time with her was during those years,” he explained. “Of course, we also put it in to include a big catastrophe, but I didn’t invent (the accident).”

It was understandably tough for Dick to have to face “painful things I went through again after 40 years”, and when things got too close for comfort, he had to excuse himself for a moment. “At the end of the day, I would just want to go home and be alone.”

Despite the emotional difficulty, Dick was able to applaud the performance of up-and-coming actress Michelle Wong, who plays Pat. “We chose her (for the role) because her spirit embodies my sister’s, (they’re both) very sweet,” he said.

Michelle Wong got into character by calling Benjamin Kheng “gor”
Michelle Wong got into character by calling Benjamin Kheng “gor”
02 Nov 2016

Michelle Wong got into character by calling Benjamin Kheng “gor”

When she isn’t in character as Pat, The 5 Search finalist sports a head of golden hair, which she has to cover with black cream and a wig while shooting for Wonder Boy.

“I’m working on another show for Channel 5 where I play a rebellious character, so I dyed my hair blonde for the very first time, which was very exciting and cool,” said the 24-year-old. “It takes 45 minutes to an hour to wash the paste off, but I’m very pleased with the results.”

Aside from the makeover, Michelle revealed that she prepared for her role by only referring to Benjamin as “kor” (Chines dialect for “big brother”). “I started feeling like he really was my brother, and the emotions came very naturally because they felt so real.”

One of the most memorable scenes she did was an argument between Pat and Richard. “Thinking about it now gives me goose-bumps,” she admitted. “As a younger sister myself, that really hit me in the heart.”

Daniel Yam praises Dick Lee’s movie directorial debut effort
Daniel Yam praises Dick Lee’s movie directorial debut effort
02 Nov 2016

Daniel Yam praises Dick Lee’s movie directorial debut effort

While Dick is no stranger to helming theatre productions, Wonder Boy marks the first time he’s treading on movie director ground. However, his much more seasoned co-pilot Daniel assured us that he doesn’t feel like he’s working with a beginner.

“Dick brings his creative mind, musical sense and momentum to the set,” he commended. “I learned so much from him and his sense of fashion, music and timing.”

Daniel also recounted a time when he witnessed Dick getting emotional during one shoot. “After we finished and yelled ‘Cut!’, I looked over and saw Dick with tears in his eyes. This story is very close to his heart and he’s doing a great job in bringing out the authenticity.”

Zachary Ibrahim, Michelle Wong, Benjamin Kheng, Julie Tan and Dick Lee hold a group interview
Zachary Ibrahim, Michelle Wong, Benjamin Kheng, Julie Tan and Dick Lee hold a group interview
02 Nov 2016

Zachary Ibrahim, Michelle Wong, Benjamin Kheng, Julie Tan and Dick Lee hold a group interview

Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan have an impromptu staring competition
Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan have an impromptu staring competition
02 Nov 2016

Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan have an impromptu staring competition

Directors Daniel Yam and Dick Lee run through a scene before filming
Directors Daniel Yam and Dick Lee run through a scene before filming
02 Nov 2016

Directors Daniel Yam and Dick Lee run through a scene before filming

Benjamin Kheng discusses a scene with the directors and his co-star Gerald Chew
Benjamin Kheng discusses a scene with the directors and his co-star Gerald Chew
02 Nov 2016

Benjamin Kheng discusses a scene with the directors and his co-star Gerald Chew

Director Dick Lee in action with his actors Gerald Chew and Benjamin Kheng
Director Dick Lee in action with his actors Gerald Chew and Benjamin Kheng
02 Nov 2016

Director Dick Lee in action with his actors Gerald Chew and Benjamin Kheng

WATCH:
Dick Lee can’t stop complimenting Benjamin Kheng
Benjamin Kheng and Julie Tan take our Chinese idioms challenge!

Wonder Boy is targeted for theatrical release in the third quarter of 2017. It is presented by mm2 Entertainment and Bert Pictures with the support of Singapore Film Commission, in partnership with Dick Lee Asia, a joint venture with mm2.

Report a problem