How do you make a movie about Malaysia’s greatest ever badminton player? With a lot of effort, patience, and a LOT of shuttlecocks. The upcoming Lee Chong Wei film, took a total of three years to produce, including 50 days of filming. The filmmakers also went through 5,000 shuttlecocks during production, and when they opened auditions for the leading roles, over 2000 aspiring Lee Chong Weis showed up.
A biographical film on Lee’s life, the story starts with his early years as an aspiring young badminton player from Penang, all the way to becoming the No. 1 badminton player in the world. The movie is set for release in the first quarter of 2018. Lee Chong Wei is directed by Teng Bee, best known for hit films like Kepong Gangster and Kepong Gangster 2.
During a press conference at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Nov 9, Teng said about 60% of the film is based on Lee’s true story, while the rest is either fictional or heavily dramatised. Lee said he had never thought his life story would be turned in to a film. “I had faith in the director, who had to tell my whole story in two hours,” he said.
“I would like to thank my family and everyone who believed in me. And also my sponsors, who have supported me for so long.” Don’t expect him to be pursuing a career in acting soon though. “I didn’t get to participate much in the movie. But I did get to visit the set and realised that filming is really tiring, I would rather go and train instead!” he said.
All about the badminton
Earlier this year, auditions were held to cast the leading roles, with more than 2,000 people showing up. The lead role eventually went to 22-year-old newcomer Tosh Chan. Child actor Jake Eng, 13, plays the younger version of the badminton player.
Teng said he cast the two unknown actors in the roles because he felt it was important to cast someone who could play badminton, first and foremost.
"The badminton scenes had to be convincing. So I decided it would be easier to cast someone who can play badminton and then teach them to act, rather than teach an actor how to play badminton," he said.
Knowing that a movie about Lee’s life would draw a huge amount of attention, the film’s producers decided to keep the production a secret, filming under the working title Rise Of The Legend. This as also to ease the pressure on the two young leads. “The two boys had never acted before so we wanted to ease the pressure on them by keeping the film under wraps until today,” said Teng.
“As for the name, we decided to call the film Lee Chong Wei because these three words are no longer just a name. They are the pride of the nation. After filming, we felt there was no other title that was better. So we decided to just call it Lee Chong Wei.”
Filming it was also a huge challenge, as the movie is about badminton, and according to Teng, everyone in Malaysia is familiar with the sport, so they would not be able to get away with just winging it.
“This is about badminton, and you can't lie about that because every Malaysian knows what badminton is like!” he said. "We wanted to capture the real intensity of a badminton match, so we spent a lot of time shooting those scenes and making sure it felt real.”
The film eventually took almost 50 days to shoot, and overshot its initial estimated budget of RM6mil.
Rest of the cast
Singaporean actor Mark Lee plays Lee's father Lee Ah Chai, while award-winning Malaysian actress Yeo Yann Yann plays his mother, Khor Kim Chooi. "When I met her in person, I could tell that although she is gentle on the outside, she is very strong on the inside," Yeo said. "Being a mother myself, I would never be able to bear watching my child training as hard as Chong Wei did!"
Datuk Rosyam Nor, who plays badminton legend Datuk Misbun Sidek, who used to coach Lee personally and was instrumental in his rise to greatness, leapt at the chance to star in the film because he thinks it will "create history". "I’ve been acting for more than 35 year, and I am very selective about my roles. The reason I chose to be Misbun is because this is not just a film about badminton, but it is a film about the nation, and the Malaysia. I really believe that this film will make history,” he said.
Newcomer Ashley Hua plays Lee’s wife, former national badminton player Wong Mew Choo. According to Hua, she never expected to be in the cast in the first place. “I was just a fresh graduate who was helping the production crew. Then during the Johor production, Datuk Joe Lee (Lee Chong Wei’s elder brother) said I looked a lot like Mew Choo, and asked the crew to let me audition as well,” she recalled.
The movie also Freddie Wong, Uriah See, Bernard Hiew, and Datuk Norman Pang. Lee Chong Wei is produced by CB Pictures and Mahu Pictures, and distributed by GSC Movies.