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The Lyricist Wannabe ★★★



Released: 15 March 2024

Director: Norris Wong

Starring: Suet-Ying Chung

Five years after her award-winning directorial debut My Prince Edward, Norris Wong’s latest comedy-drama and multiple Golden Horse Award nominee The Lyricist Wannabe is the first feature film about Cantopop (Cantonese pop music). Starring Suet-Ying Chung, the film follows Sze (Chung) as she pursues her lifelong dream of becoming a lyricist.

At the start of the film, student Sze has a keen interest in lyric-writing but her endeavours are barely acknowledged or ultimately denied. Wong’s eloquent screenplay and a smattering of animated sequences beautifully convey Sze’s hopes and enthusiasm for writing lyrics, which she actively nurtures with her school friends and via the internet. But as time goes on, her friends move on by either studying abroad and even forming serious relationships while Sze strives to become a recognised lyricist. 

Although The Lyricist Wannabe offers an underdog story-vibe with a bespectacled heroine at its heart, the well-executed direction and narrative strays away from the generic clichés to paint a realistic picture of someone pursuing their dreams, however far-fetched they may be. Throughout the film, Sze’s ambition feeds a need for success and gratification for her ongoing efforts. However, her unfamiliarity about the music business, along with some condescending words of wisdom from instructor Wing Lo (Pak Hon Chu) and record producer Wong (Yeung Wai-lun), insinuates that she isn’t fully mentally prepared for this career. Even her long-suffering university boyfriend Zeke (Yukkai Tai) sheds light on the personal sacrifices she is unwittingly making, with his words falling on deaf ears. As a result, Sze’s innocence about sticking to her dreams shows her naivety about showbusiness, and an underlying lack of consideration about those who she expects to support her.

Norris Wong gently hints at this low-key reality check as Sze repeatedly experiences obstacles that hint at promise but eventually crashes her back to Earth. These issues tie in with difficult creative collaborations and the wavering appeal of Cantopop, the popularity of which began to decline in the 2010s in favour of Korean and Mandarin pop music. It does paint an overly pessimistic picture but thanks to Suet-Ying Chung’s performance, Sze becomes an endearing underdog whose determination easily overshadows supporting characters such as Mak (Anson Chan), a schoolmate-turned-quietly supportive presence in Sze’s life and her boisterous parents (played by Luna Shaw and Eric Kot).

Gently delving into the world of Cantopop, the serious notes amid The Lyricist Wannabe offer universal appeal that not only highlights Wong’s acute observational style of direction but Chung’s charming performance as the eponymous dreamer.

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