Local Auteur To Release Football-Themed Film, Reflects Briefly On Eminent Career
Those who know Malaysian director Saw Teong Hin will tell you this is one truthful, frank man.
“Of course there are names being thrown about, but none of them are confirmed yet and I don’t want to look like an idiot later on,” he says with a laugh when enquired about the cast of his Penang-Hokkien film.
Hai Ki Xin Lor (You Mean The World To Me) started off as a Penang-Hokkien play which premiered at George Town Festival last year. It turned out to be a massive success and is currently being made into a film (they’ve started casting).
Confirmed to be part of the project? Acclaimed cinematographer Christopher Doyle, who has worked with renowned directors Wong Kar-Wai, Zhang Yimou and Gus Van Sant.
Teong Hin, whose directorial debut Puteri Gunung Ledang was Malaysia’s submission to the 77th Academy Awards, has come a long way since 2004. He’s just finished filming his fourth feature film, titled Jejak Warriors.
Jejak Warriors is a particularly unique piece of cinema; the film stars actual players from Red Warriors, the Kelantanese football team. Teong Hin calls it a “modern day fable” and a “road movie”.
He explains, “It’s a story of a boy who wants to fulfill his late dad’s wish, so he goes on a road trip to look for the Red Warriors and get them to sign a match ball.”
“Although the footballers are a large part of it, it’s not about football per se. It’s more about how football is a community or family which gives our protagonist the strength to achieve what he does.”
“When I was first offered the project, I was naturally intrigued. I’m not the first person you think of when you think of football,” he tells us with humour.
“When I heard the idea of what they wanted to do I thought, I could relate to it and make it work, so I joined the team.”
Jejak Warriors is currently picking up steam on social media. The film, due on the 27th of August, looks set to take Teong Hin to the top of the industry again.
“Of course, in the back of the head you’d think, wouldn’t that be nice, you know, that sort of thing. But I’ve come to the stage when you stop worrying about these things and just focus on the best work you can give,” he notes.
In terms of box office collection, Puteri Gunung Ledang remains his most successful, followed by 2008 romantic comedy Apa Kata Hati and 2012’s Hoore! Hoore! which paid tribute to the late Sudirman. Teong Hin humbly attributes his involvement with Puteri Gunung Ledang to pure luck.
“That was like winning the lottery,” he exclaims.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of experience and the film had good support. I never imagined it would have gone all the way to Venice and all around the world. I mean it was screened at the Smithsonian; how can you even dream of such a thing?”
The Puteri Gunung Ledang brand grew extensively since 2004, spawning a hit musical that ran for multiple seasons at the Istana Budaya, on top of a series of live concerts featuring songs from the film. The musical was a huge success commercially as well as critically, nabbing a number of trophies at the 5th BOH Cameronian Arts Awards.
Recently HyppTV announced a television series also titled Puteri Gunung Ledang, starring Atikah Suhaime and Ammar Alfian although it might not have come from the original PGL camp.
“It’s a franchise — a successful franchise — and I think it’s a testament to the strength of the material, although the film is very different from the play. As for the TV show… I don’t think it’s anything to do with us. Public domain mah,” Teong Hin states.
Curious, we asked if there was anything that sets his films apart from the rest. He observes that he hasn’t noticed a clear signature yet because he dislikes repeating himself.
Teong Hin recounts his experience in cinema: his first film was a period drama, his second a romantic-comedy, his third a musical family drama, and his fourth is based on sports.
“I do what I guess interests me,” he admits.
“My interest changes like everybody else’s — it evolves over time. It’s not like I want to be known solely as a director of a particular genre romantic comedy or action.”
He pauses for a second, before jokingly adding, “Maybe I should have a better career strategy.”
In fact, when it boils down to the core, Teong Hin wants to be known for truth.
“I have no control over how people perceive my work. Although film [depicts] an alternate reality, I believe has to be grounded in some realism.”
“I wish to be known for honesty,” he concludes, jovial.