When Chiu Keng Guan set out to make OlaBola, he wanted to cast football players to star in the leading roles.
“It’s easier to teach football players how to act. It’s harder to teach actors how to play football,” Chiu said.
Set in the 1980, OlaBola looks into the trials and tribulation of the national football team. It’s a fictional film inspired by true events.
Back as a secondary school student, Chiu saw a documentary about how the Malaysian football team qualified for the Olympic Games in 1980. However, the team eventually did not participate as Malaysia boycotted host country Russia over the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
“I was so sad because the team featured in the documentary tried so hard. As I grew older, I learned that it’s life. We have to move on,” the 44-year-old filmmaker said.
The production team for OlaBola held a nationwide casting call and audition to find new talent to play the three leading roles – Ahmad Ali the striker, Muthu the goalkeeper and Chow Kok Keong aka Tauke the team captain.
Hundreds turned up for the audition and eventually engineering student Saran Kumar was cast as Muthu while Kajang-based quantity surveyor Luqman Hafidz got the part for Ali. Rounding up the main cast is model-actor JC Chee as Tauke.
During an interview in Petaling Jaya, Selangor, the trio recalled how their audition process went.
“I got a scene where I have to cry. I couldn’t do it. I knew nothing about acting. But Chiu told me to keep going and eventually, I got it,” said 22-year-old Saran who auditioned after he was encouraged by his mother.
Luqman came prepared with Shahrukh Khan-inspired acting tips. The night before, a nervous Luqman googled “how to become an actor” and got lessons from watching videos featuring the famed Bollywood actor.
“I decided to copy his eyebrow movements. Then during the audition, Chiu asked if I was not feeling well because I kept moving my eyebrows. Later, he advised to just be myself,” 24-year-old Luqman recalled.
For Chee, OlaBola was a chance for him to work with his idol Chiu. Unlike Luqman and Saran who actively play football, Chee said he hasn’t kicked a ball in years.
“One of the auditions was held on the football field and I was nervous when I saw how well the other guys played. So I tried to do everything in slow motion. I even stood at the goalpost and hid there,” Perlis-born Chee recalled.
When the producer told him that he needed to improve on his football skills, Chee thought he had blown his chance.
“But they called me and said I got the part!” he said.
Chiu also cast Bront Palarae as Rahman the sports commentator and Marianne Tan as a TV producer.
Since making his directorial debut in 2010, Chiu’s films have consistently made a lot of money at the local box-office.
Lion dance drama Woohoo! (2010) collected RM4.2mil while The Great Day (2011) made RM6.5mil. Then came his record-breaking feat – The Journey became the highest-grossing Malaysian movie in 2014 when it earned RM17.37mil in box-office receipts.
So, it begs the question, does Chiu feel the pressure to deliver another box-office hit with OlaBola?
“No, my focus is always on making a great movie,” he said confidently.With OlaBola, Chiu wanted to make an emotional sports movie that would keep the audience engaged. “I learned that in order to make a sports movie that would touch the audience, the buildup is very important.
“You can’t let the audience figure out what is going to happen next. They have to keep guessing,” he explained.
Chiu also wanted to make sure that his cast could deliver believable performances.
So, the director made sure the actors underwent trainings sessions on the football field and took acting classes with trainers from Taiwan to prepare for their roles.
Chiu went the extra mile to help his cast get into character. He enlisted legendary football player and former captain of the Malaysian team Datuk Soh Chin Aun to be a consultant for the movie. He also roped in former national goalkeeper Wong Kam Fook to train Saran for his role.
“During rehearsals, I told everyone to give me their 100% and I wanted that same commitment during the shoot,” Chiu said.
Even as the shoot took place in sweltering heat at Stadium Merdeka, Kuala Lumpur, the cast had no complains.
“I remember telling the guys to put on sunblock!” offered Chee, who has flawless skin.
OlaBola is also the first Malaysian feature film to be shot with Dolby Atmos sound technology. Audience can expect an immersive cinematic experience in selected GSC cinemas.
“We have sound of the crowd cheering and singing; I want the audience to feel like they are in the stadium cheering on the national football team,” Chiu said.
Chiu did not make OlaBola with the intention to change the local football scene.
“It’s not about whether our football scene is good or bad. This movie is for all Malaysians. To me, it’s the support that’s lacking. Maybe we need to do something about that first.”
Luqman hopes that with the film, the audience will come to realise the importance of brotherhood.
“I really believe this film will inspire our country,” he said.
Overall, Chiu is proud of the performance of his multi-racial cast.
“Luqman, JC and Saran did well. We showed a rough cut of the movie to some filmmakers in Taiwan and they said to me, ‘Your new actors have done good!’ Even the trainers were impressed with them,” he said, clearly beaming with pride.
After OlaBola, Chee is determined to continue to pursue acting while Luqman and Saran are unsure.
“I have to focus on my studies first,” said Saran who is pursuing a degree at Universiti Tenaga Nasional in Bangi, Selangor.
As for Chiu, he hopes to take a break … for a bit. “Then maybe start work on a comedy film,” he teased.
You can never keep a good man down.