10 things about: Chiu Keng Guan, director of ‘Ola Bola’ and ‘The Journey’

Picture by Choo Choy May
Picture by Choo Choy May

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — A box-office collection of RM17 million from his third film, The Journey, in 2014 gave new life to a stagnant Malaysian film industry. However what excited Batu Pahat-born director Chiu Keng Guan more was being able to show the beauty of Malaysia and its diversity through the film.

Leaving aside the monetary aspects of movie-making to the producers, Chiu is more concerned about highlighting the other stories about Malaysia that have yet to be told.

The 44-year-old’s latest film Ola Bola which tells the story of an underdog football team will be screened on January 28. Even though it is a fictional story, Ola Bola is loosely based on the glory days of the national football team that almost qualified for the Moscow Olympics.

Chiu, a former Liverpool fan, hopes he is able to try his hand at action and comedy films in the future. Here he talks about the trials and tribulations involved in the making Ola Bola.

In his own words:

I hope all Malaysians will like this story because this is our story. We should be proud of this story. This is the pride of the nation where the local team fights for the country. We have to support them.

I do not know about the expected earnings, we will have to wait for the response. We hope it becomes a phenomenon though... as a film-maker I’m more focused on the creative aspects of the job. The rest of it I leave it to my producers.

In every film, there are certain aspects that can be improved. For me, I’m happy with the result. It is quite complete. When we make a film, we don’t think about who is going to watch the movie, we think about telling a story that touches the hearts of the people.

(On choosing the actors) One was good at acting but was not good at playing football. Another one was good at playing football but not good at acting. How was I to decide? It is easy to teach someone to act but to teach them to play football, that is hard. I’m sure they have played before at university or club level. They had to train for a long time because they were not real actors. We had to give them classes. All that they had to learn, their training was long which started with futsal for a period of six months. Every week we had training with the coaches two or three times a week.

This movie was reworked to give it more creative freedom. We played around with emotional elements. There are advantages and disadvantages. If we stayed true to history, the creativity would have been limited. We cannot over exaggerate because it has to be based on the original story.

The scene in the changing room was one of the most challenging ones. Six times it had to be re-shot. The scene is non-stop for eight minutes from start till they fight. After six times, everyone ‘fainted’ because they had spent all their energy.

There is no next film yet because I’m not too sure if I want to try out action or comedy. I could go for either because I want to try something I have not done before.

Normally there is 5.1 Dolby and 7.1 Dolby speakers. 5.1 has 5 side speakers with one in front. ATMOS can reach up to 64 speakers. So you can actually feel a more surround sound of the helicopter or even chicken. Like when everyone sings in a stadium, we hear it all around us.

I never expected The Journey to get that kind of response. For Ola Bola, it took almost half a year to interview people and go through the national archives. For The Journey, we researched for six months speaking to elderly people on how would they feel if their daughter married a foreigner. We interviewed around 50 people.

I am not good at giving advice. I don’t know... when effort is put in, the audience is able to feel it. For example, the jogging scene, it was a small scene that used a helicopter shot. We started climbing the mountain at three in the morning, over 100 people loaded with equipment climbed the mountain for a less than 10-second scene. When we put effort in, the beauty of Malaysia can be seen on screen. Some people might think this is crazy work.

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