Mention the United States Navy SEALs, and most of us know what that is. But not many realise the existence of Paskal (Pasukan Khas Laut), which is Malaysia’s own special operations unit within the Royal Malaysian Navy that carry out highly-classified and highly-dangerous military operations.
Director Adrian Teh admitted to be among those who had never heard of this force until a friend told him about a Paskal mission.
After learning about the unit two years ago, and doing more research online, Teh was inspired to make a film about the brave operatives.
Paskal The Movie, with a budget of RM10mil, is said to be the most expensive local film made. It stars Hairul Azreen, Ammar Alfian, Henley Hii, Theebaan Govindasamy, Taufiq Hanafi, Gambit Saifullah and Hafizul Kamal as Paskal operatives, with a special appearance by Hollywood actor Tiger Chen Hu.
Teh said: “The major reason for me to do Paskal is to inform the public about them. We know other (foreign) forces but not our own; I felt I should do something about it.
“This movie is also to pay tribute to the selflessness of Malaysian soldiers, and the operatives of this elite armed force, who put their lives on the line for us without asking for any reward in return.”
But getting the project started was quite a task as Teh was determined to involve the Royal Malaysian Navy in the making of the film.
It took Teh and his collaborators, Frank See and Keoh Chee Ang, almost seven months just to meet with the man in charge, Chief Of Navy, Tan Sri Kamarul Zaman to talk about the possibility of a film. It took another couple of months to get the story approved by the navy.
At a press conference to promote the film, Kamarul recalled his hesitation: “My main concern about the making of a movie about Paskal is that we don’t want it to be an exaggeration or a fantasy. We are not fiction; the realism depicted has to be authentic.”
Two of the three missions featured in the film are based on actual incidents – Operation Dawn 8: Gulf of Aden took place in 2011, and a mission in 1998 when Paskal was part of the United Nations Angola Verification Mission II.
Teh said: “We kept 75% of what happened in real life for the two missions seen in the film. Only one of it is fictionalised.”
The navy was involved in the casting process too, whereby it had the final say in the seven main actors picked to play the Paskal operatives.
Additionally, these actors were put through two months of intensive training to prepare for their roles, on top of a one-week training at Paskal’s training base in Lumut, Perak, to allow them to familiarise who they are representing.
Kamarul attested: “Adrian Teh has done justice to my Paskal men with this film. We hope this movie does not only represent Paskal, but all the armed forces doing their duties and making sacrifices out there. I am excited for the public to see it.”
Like Teh, all the actors were keen to do justice to the brave soldiers they are portraying in the film.
Hairul, a former stuntman and the winner of Fear Factor Selebriti Malaysia in 2013, is no stranger to hardcore training.
Even then, he went the extra mile to learn handling firearms on his own.
In the process, he broke a finger but still soldiered on filming for two weeks as he didn’t want to jeopardise the shooting schedule. Eventually, he went for surgery but returned the next day to shoot his scenes.
In the film, the 30-year-old actor plays Lieutenant Commander Arman Anwar, a soldier who joins the Paskal team to find out why his soldier dad sacrificed his life for the country.
As Arman goes from one mission to another with his six mates, he is contemplative about his occupation, especially when he loses a fellow Paskal member to whom he was close to.
Hairul said: “While the physical training felt like (what I went through for) Fear Factor, I took up acting classes to ensure I don’t bring shame to the navy with my portrayal.”
Likewise Theebaan, a seven-time national karate champion and mixed martial arts fighter who makes his silver-screen debut said he was prepared for the role mentally because he trains every day.
“Physical-wise, the Paskal men are the real deal. These guys look small, but looks can be deceiving; I have no doubt they can take me down if they wanted to. We must respect them and what they do,” Theebaan stated.
His co-star Ammar added: “The training to pass as a Paskal member is brutal .... we didn’t even experience 10% of what they go through. That’s the kind of dedication they are willing to put themselves through to serve our country.
“This is why I am very proud to be part of this movie.”
Having shot the movie and gotten to know some of the soldiers, Teh shared that he and a few of the actors are ready to enrol to be a Navy Reserve.
“These are not money-driven people. For them, it is enough when we thank them for their service,” Teh noted.