The Lyricist Wannabe

European Premiere | In Competition


Guest stars: 

Norris WONG, director

CHUNG Suet-yng, actress


Cantopop has long been tied to Hong Kong cinema: the two main sides of the city’s entertainment scene share stars, rising-singer fables dot filmographies, and many beloved tunes stay rooted in the mind thanks to the classic scenes they’ve supported. But it’s only now that a filmmaker has taken a deep dive into the minutiae of local songwriting – and with The Lyricist Wannabe director Norris Wong pulls it off in compelling pop cinema.

Leading Wong’s semi-autobiographical tale is young dreamer Law Wing-sze (Chung Suet-ying), whom audiences meet as a schoolgirl sure of her future as a lyricist. In the early 2000s, she and her friends plunge into writing new words to go with existing music.

And as she grows up, attends university and tries to enter the workforce, she stays as determined as ever. Parental support is excellent, which is a huge (and often unusual) help for a young Hongkonger trying to work in the arts, but the challenges of breaking into the city’s music biz turn out to be formidable.

Divided into lessons – from harmonising and love songs to the Composers and Authors Society of Hong Kong, or CASH – The Lyricist Wannabe neatly splits Wong’s growth and challenges into clear themes. Those new to Cantopop quickly learn about the major challenge in writing lyrics: matching the nine tones of Cantonese to melodies. If you go off-key and alter a word’s tone to fit the music, you’ll be mangling the meaning. And that’s before one starts thinking of puns, rhyming and slang. Since the tunes are written first in local pop, the young Sze learns that Hong Kong lyricists don’t write freely but instead “fill in the lyrics,” choosing words to fit as they go. Her early efforts to craft lines start with strings of tonally correct nonsense, and only later in a songwriting class does she come across the revelatory 0243 method that tackles the tonal conundrum.

That’s a heap of technical and cultural detail to cover, and The Lyricist Wannabe breezes through it smoothly. Wong draws on the memoir she wrote detailing her efforts to become a lyricist (and contributes lyrics to the soundtrack), adds in bits of animation, and surrounds Sze with light comedy in her friends and family. One lovely sequence, set to a song by local indie band My Little Airport, sees the 0243 technique spill across shots of the city and home filled with numbers. Actress Chung Suet-ying – a lyricist herself – gives an affecting and down-to-earth performance in the leading role, personifying youthful hope, disappointment and settling into the ways of adult life. The cast also brings together established actors and rising screen talents, including popular YouTube skit makers, plus cameos from Cantopop industry figures.

Despite its whimsical touches, The Lyricist Wannabe at times heads into more sobering territory. Wong, who pumped her savings from film and TV work into making the independent production, moves beyond simplistic views of dogged determination pushing one to success – as Sze discovers, some obstacles can be incredibly hard to overcome. It’s particularly so in the Hong Kong that emerges here, where a cliquish music industry is hard to enter and startups get stymied by officialdom. If Sze is to hear her work on the radio one day, as she’d dreamed of as a teen, getting there won’t be through the idealistic route she once hoped to take.

Tim Youngs
Film director: Norris WONG
Year: 2023
Running time: 110'
Country: Hong Kong
26/04 - 4:40 PM
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
26-04-2024 16:40 26-04-2024 18:30Europe/Rome The Lyricist Wannabe Far East Film Festival Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da UdineCEC Udine