A new local movie tells the story of Malaysia's top lion dance troupe, Kun Seng Keng.
TEN-time Genting Lion Dance World Champions. 55 International Championship titles. 65 National Championship titles. It goes without saying that the world famous Kun Seng Keng (KSK) Lion and Dragon Dance Association is the undisputed king of the sport.
It is this impressive track record that inspired local filmmaker Matt Lai to make his directorial debut with an inspirational action movie titled The Great Lion – Kun Seng Keng.
“With their amazing record, it’s a great concept to promote the lion dance culture in Malaysia. We are the world champions, so it’s a good way to promote an achievement we can be proud of,” Lai, 35, said during a recent interview in Kuala Lumpur, where he was accompanied by the movie’s stars Thomas Kok and Henley Hii.
Invited by a friend to watch the Genting Lion Dance World Championship in 2012, Lai recalled how he was amazed by the fact that a team of two lion dancers could leap atop poles some two to three metres high, as well as distances of about two to three metres.
“That is not an easy thing to do. In fact, I think it is very, very difficult, especially since both dancers have to jump together.”
After that, Lai did his research and found KSK’s story to be so inspirational that he decided to make it his first directorial project, which he began filming in July 2013.
Based on the true story of KSK’s “third-generation” lion dance troupe champions Chong Kok Fu and Si Tiam Yong, who contributed to 19 of the troupe’s world championship titles, the coming-of-age sports film also stars Alan Kuo, Michael Chin, Chen Koon Tai and Angela Chan.
In film, Kok, 24, plays Si – the lion head of KSK, while Hii, 29, plays the lion tail of rival troupe Hei Long.
“We trained for months with Kun Seng Keng’s award-winning team. It was then that we learnt what lion dance was really about. Many of the moves (we did) are awe-inspiring, and would probably take at least three years of training to be able to achieve,” gushed Kok.
While the use of wire-work had to be incorporated in order for them to portray the sport accurately, Hii said, “The most important thing was to ensure that we demonstrated the ‘form’ and the spirit of lion dance.”
Having to handle the tail end of the lion because he was larger in size (Chin played the lion head for Hei Long troupe), one of the challenges he faced was not being able to see what was in front of him.
“Being the one at the back, my line of sight was severely limited. Most of the time, all I could see were the pair of legs in front of me.”
Another tough part of being the tail was having to bend over for the entire duration of the performance.
“There is a technique to it, but it is back-breaking work all the same,” he added.
For Kok, however, the challenge was having to perform atop a pole. “It is bad enough having to perform while being perched atop a pole – the ‘head’ also gets lifted by the ‘tail’ during leaps and spins. So, the height does get to me, and it can get very scary sometimes. That was something I had to overcome.”
The ‘head’ of the lion is also quite heavy, said Kok, who had sore arms by the end of every training session.
Kok hoped that through this movie, more Malaysians will appreciate the lion dance better.
“Malaysians love watching lion dance performances, but few know what an awesome craft it is. We hope they will learn to appreciate this age-old art through our movie,” Kok said.
"The Great Lion – Kung Seng Keng" opens in local cinemas nationwide today.