THE fact that this was the third Malaysian football film out in five months did little to quell our anticipation.
It feels like just yesterday we watched Saw Teong Hin‘s Jejak Warriors and Shamyl Othman‘s Rembat, and though both were great films in their own right, we could have waited several years before we saw the sport back in cinemas, but hey — guess who’s on screen this time round?
After a year of extraordinary highs (AIFFA, Halfworlds) and questionable lows (Jwanita, Girlfriend Kontrak), The Daily Seni‘s Managing Director Bront Palarae is back in another high-profile project.
Not that there were any worries about his career. His appearances in commercial blockbusters (Ombak Rindu, V3: Samseng Jalanan, Bikers Kental) and penchant for left-field projects (Redemption Night, Psiko: Pencuri Hati, Terbaik Dari Langit) has given him somewhat of an enigmatic status in Malaysian cinema.
What exactly is Bront after, given his choice of roles, regional acting stints, ventures into directing, and establishment of this news publication you’re currently reading?
But we digress.
But we understand; this might be the one film ASTRO really wants viewers to catch, based on the amount of money (RM5 million, according to the Malay Mail) they’ve invested in Chiu Keng Guan’s project.
Reminiscing events leading up to Malaysia’s qualifying match for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Chiu does wonders with his subject matter.
Told in Chinese, Malay and Tamil, Chiu paints his tale of communal triumph with a healthy slathering of studio gloss which makes for an appealing visual feast. But despite its shiny veneer, there’s a lot of heart in each one of Ola Bola‘s story arcs.
Chiu explores the life of stubborn, hot-headed footballer Tauke with a nostalgic take of Chinese kampung life. Tauke has an old-fashioned family — his mother carefully boils him chicken essence for his wellbeing, while his sister has given up prospects of tertiary education to tap rubber and sew.
Meanwhile, Muthu’s young siblings frequently get in trouble with their father, who has given up hope on his eldest son’s passion for sport in a failing national team. With these characters and a monkey in tow, Chiu lets comedy take front seat.
Elsewhere, commentator-in-training Rahman’s style of commentary isn’t immediately appreciated by his superiors.
Clever little red herrings might lead the impatient viewer into thinking this as a 1Malaysia sort of film, but it soon becomes apparent that everything on screen is here for a reason.
Case in point: the appearance of one Malay, one Chinese and one Indian man in Rahman’s establishing segment proves vital for Rahman’s arc.
Ola Bola‘s young cast of new actors hold up well enough in keeping audiences immersed in this sports story. Most notably Luqman Hafidz‘s young and spunky Ali, as well as Sarankumar Manokaran‘s sympathetic but determined Muthu displayed enough acting chops for a continued career in film.
But it’s Bront Palarae’s Rahman which completely stunned us and every other person in the cinema that day.
Boasting an effervescence and enthusiasm for his job like no other, Rahman is the most likeable person on screen in Ola Bola. For a supporting character, he’s one heck of a scene-stealer, rattling off dramatic live commentary at a thousand miles an ever.
Rahman is just a simple man with a big task. But it’s because of him that we’re cheering louder than ever for the film’s young protagonists by the finale.
Rahman’s success we believe comes from the fact that both actor and character in question are utterly in love with their craft and industry.
But enough about our beloved boss.
Ola Bola‘s other triumphs include Onn San‘s delightful score and Zee Avi‘s gorgeous, bilingual “Arena Cahaya”, which add to the rousing nature of the film. We also take our hats off to its beautiful cinematography (Chiu’s landscape fetish is back!) and adept skill at capturing all the frenetic energy of a crucial sports game.
Although we aren’t completely sold by the cast’s rendition of “Inilah Barisan Kita” in a helicopter — yes, Chiu can get cloyingly sentimental at times, as evident in The Journey — Ola Bola succeeds in almost every other moment, because it feels sincere.
And that’s a compliment you’ll find hard to afford most Malaysian filmmakers since the late, great Yasmin Ahmad.
With his fourth full-length feature following massive commercial successes Woo Hoo (2010), Great Day (2011) and The Journey (2014), Chiu Keng Guan has proved his position as Malaysia’s top director of the new decade.
Make sure to help dictate what sort of local filmmaking you want on silver screens by catching Ola Bola, currently showing in all good cinemas near you.
Check out Ola Bola on Facebook to find out more about the film!