Football and movies have always been strange bedfellows. Boxing, baseball, basketball, American football and even ice hockey have had good, sometimes great movies made about them, but even hardcore football fans will have a tough time naming a football movie that’s actually very good.
Escape To Victory, Offside, Shaolin Soccer, Gregory’s Girl, The Damned United and The Miracle Of Bern are the most prominent, but compiling a Top 10 list is really hard work.
Jejak Warriors, Puteri Gunung Ledang director Saw Teong Hin’s latest film, will not find a place on that list. Though it seems to be a football film at first, it’s actually more about fandom.
With that technicality out of the way we can now evaluate Jejak Warriors for what it truly is: a wholesome family movie where dreams, family values and a charming obsession take centre stage.
Arriving at a slightly unfortunate time owing to the lukewarm fortunes of the Kelantan football team, this love letter to The Red Warriors puts two fans in the spotlight: one a supporter of The Red Warriors, the other of rival Johor Darul Takzim (JDT).
It tells the story of a Johor-based boy from Kelantan, Wan Raja (Mohd Aliff Firdaus), who is such a diehard Red Warriors fan that some of its players are his imaginary friends – a nicely- done comic touch.
Actual Kelantan football stars like Khairul Fahmi Che Mat and Wan Zack Haikal Wan Nor play themselves, giving advice and talking to him in mostly football terms, like “it’s half time” during a crisis or “the game’s not over yet” when he is down and out.
After his beloved father (sympathetically played by Pekin Ibrahim) dies, Wan Raja decides he must fulfil his dad’s dream, which is to get all the Kelantan players to sign his match ball. So he goes on a road trip, only to have his bag and money stolen.
This leads him to cross paths with the film’s other comic highlight – an elderly taxi driver called Pak Jai (the late Harun Salim Bachik giving a hilariously irresistible performance) who acts far younger than he looks and spouts “mat rock” lingo.
Pak Jai’s daughter is football-crazy too; but Nadia (Nadiya Nissa) is, unfortunately, a hardcore JDT supporter. Still, she agrees to drive Wan Raja to Penang for a Kelantan match in order for him to get the ball signed. A bond forms between the two as Nadia begins to feel responsible for the boy.
The wobbly script squeezes in numerous comic mishaps, ranging from funny to painfully unfunny, and a scarcely believable development when Wan Raja becomes a viral sensation.
As you can deduce from my description, the movie is quite clearly a mixed bag, with some parts hitting the right comic notes so that you’ll find yourself easily charmed. At other times, you will be left feeling sorely underwhelmed.
It just feels like this 78-minute movie tried to pack too much into its short running time until what was intended to be a breezy watch ended up feeling rushed in many places. The comic bits are mostly pretty fine, but the emotional character-building moments needed more room to breathe in order for them to feel natural and convincing. The result is an inconsistently entertaining film that somehow fails to illuminate its obviously big heart.
Director: Saw Teong Hin
Cast: Mohd Aliff Firdaus, Nadiya Nissa, Harun Salim Bachik