Sports movies can be tricky. The director needs to find a balance between developing the characters, the story, and also making sure the sports action is realistic and exciting.
That task is made even harder when the subject of the film is one of Malaysia’s most famous sportsmen – Datuk Lee Chong Wei, who surely ranks as one of the greatest badminton players of all time.
To director Teng Bee’s credit, Lee Chong Wei: Rise Of The Legend is a valiant effort, and manages to walk a tightrope between fiction and fact while paying tribute to a sports legend.
The movie charts Lee’s early life – starting with him as a primary school kid (played by newcomer Jake Eng) learning to play badminton, to his struggles as a young adult (played by Tosh Chan) trying to make his mark in the National Badminton Academy.
It also focuses a lot on the relationships he had with the various people who helped him along the way, from his parents Lee Ah Chai (Mark Lee) and Khor Kim Choi (Yeo Yann Yann), first coach Teh Peng Huat (Alvin Wong), his future wife Wong Mew Choo (Ashley Hua), and the man credited for turning him into a world champion – former national player and coach Misbun Sidek (Datuk Rosyam Nor).
It helps to see Lee Chong Wei as more of a fictional dramatisation rather than a faithful chronicle of Lee’s life. While the story is deeply rooted in fact, there’s no doubt that much of it has been dramatised extensively to specifically pull at our heartstrings.
The two young actors playing Lee deserve much praise for their performances. The 14-year-old Eng steals the show with a natural and enjoyable performance as the wide-eyed, naive young Lee with a big dream. In fact, the whole first act focusing on his primary school-era is probably the most enjoyable part of the movie, though the melodrama does tend to be laid on a little thick at times.
Having Mark Lee and Yeo Yann Yann playing his parents helps though, as the two industry veterans do most of the emotional heavy lifting in this early portion of the movie.
As the older Lee, Chan acquits himself well, handling the emotional parts of the role amicably, as well as the crucial badminton action scenes (the fact that he actually does look like Lee is an added bonus).
As Misbun, Rosyam portrays the role of a mentor here, and his chemistry with young Chan is crucial in making this pivotal part of Lee’s story more convincing.
But what about the badminton scenes then? What would a movie about Malaysia’s greatest shuttler be without scenes of him actually playing badminton?
Lee Chong Wei’s greatest triumph is the way it portrays badminton on the big screen realistically, without having to resort to actual match footage.
Besides utilising the tried and true top-down camera angles used in live badminton coverage, Teng also goes for close-ups of the actors to capture them executing the shots. The result are on-screen badminton matches that make you feel like you’re there beside the court, watching the shuttlecock whiz by your face.
In earlier interviews, Teng said that he felt that it would be easier to find someone who could play badminton first and foremost, and teach them to act rather than the other way around. This approach helps make the on-screen matches seem even more realistic, especially those involving Chan, who manages to pull off impressive badminton moves that go far in making you believe that he IS Lee Chong Wei himself.
Of course, it would also not be a Lee Chong Wei movie if it didn’t mention his fierce rivalry with Lin Dan of China.
The final match of the movie is Lee’s epic 21–18, 18–21, 23–21 win over Lin Dan at the 2006 Malaysian Open final, in which he rallied back from 13-20 down in the final set to clinch victory.
Teng could not have chosen a better match to end the film. Not only is it widely acknowledged as one of the best games of badminton ever played, it is also one of Lee’s most famous victories, and the one that first seared his name into the hearts of Malaysians. Whether this movie will do the same remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure – the name “Lee Chong Wei” will never be forgotten.
Lee Chong Wei: Rise Of The Legend opens on March 15 at Golden Screen Cinemas nationwide. Follow GSC on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Lee Chong Wei: Rise Of The Legend
Director: Teng Bee
Cast: Tosh Chan, Jake Eng, Datuk Rosyam Nor, Mark Lee, Yeo Yann Yann, Alvin Wong, Uriah See