While deep into filming his new movie Wira, director Adrian Teh was so occupied thinking of how to capture the movie’s action scenes effectively and innovatively 24-7, that he was even dreaming about it ... literally.
“In my dream, someone punched me as I was walking down a street. But, my reaction was to ask the person to hit me again because the angle of his punch was quite interesting,” shared Teh, 35, with a laugh.
Teh – whose last feature was the box office success Paskal The Movie, which explored the elite force of the Royal Malaysian Navy, a subject never looked at previously in local films – is once again trying to break new grounds in Malaysia’s film industry.
This time around, he wants to up how our action films are made and presented. And he’s pulling this off with a budget of RM8mil; that’s RM2mil less than what he spent on Paskal.
Despite a smaller budget, he’s managed to hire renowned Indonesian action star Yayan Ruhian (The Raid films, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) to choreograph the action sequences in the film, as well as secure a new technocrane (a telescopic arm that lifts the camera up to 6m, which can also be fully retracted) that was just brought in to Malaysia.
“What I want to achieve with Wira is a world class action film,” Teh explained. “I pushed my cast and crew to the limit for this film.
“I demanded from my DOP (director of photography), ‘to get Hollywood shots, but with a local budget’. Those were my exact words to him, which he wasn’t happy about at all.
“There are a few particular shots in this movie that we really tried to think out of the box, where we really tried to do something that has never been done before in Malaysia. It took us weeks, discussing those few shots during the preproduction period,” Teh added.
“I am glad they turned out well, and that I am still friends with my DOP.”
Perfecting the moves
Wira revolves around a retired commando named Hassan (Hairul Azreen) who returns home only to learn that his sister, Zain (Fify Azmi), and father (Datul Hilal Azman) are in deep trouble with the neighbourhood gangster Raja (Dain Said).
Now Hassan must do everything to rescue his family. Unfortunately for him, that means a whole lot of fighting with Raja’s henchmen.
Hassan and Zain are also forced to participate in an underground match, where both of them must take on Raja’s fighters (Josiah Hogan and Indonesian actress Ismi Melinda) in the ring.
With that amount of physicality involved, Teh wanted to make sure the actors would be able to handle all the gruelling scenes he had in mind for the film.
He also wanted them to look convincing in their respective roles. Hence, he put them – especially Hairul and Fify – through specific training programmes, as well as strict dietary programmes.
Hairul, a former stuntman, was more than willing to adhere to Teh’s vision. The 31-year-old actually welcomed it.
“It’s great that Adrian looked into the physical preparation before the movie, because this made a huge difference come filming time,” the actor said.
Teh continued: “All my actors spent three months of intense training, not only because they have to know the action choreograph perfectly, but because in terms of fitness, they really have to be in top condition. I found out while making Paskal that it’s important for the actors to have a good fitness level for the long hours of filming and multiple takes we have to do.”
Hairul who buffed up for Paskal looks leaner in Wira. To achieve this, the actor did three exercise regimes per day.
The actor recalled: “We started training from December last year, and shot the film from April to May this year. During that first three months, we did fitness training in the morning with Theebaan G (a national MMA fighter, who also starred in Paskal); then from 2pm to 6pm, we trained on the film’s fight choreography with Yayan. At night, I did my own training.”
Path to enlightenment
For Fify Azmi, who is making her big-screen acting debut, it was a totally different challenge. She had to change absolutely everything about herself.
“I am quite feminine, I love having long hair and I speak softly and act like a complete girl. To play Zain, I had to change the way I look – which means short hair! – speak and even walk.”
On top of all that, the 29-year-old was only cast in Wira after Hairul and gang had already been training for one-and-a-half-months. This was because the actress who was cast earlier broke her leg while training and Teh had to replace her with Fify.
“Fify might have come in late, but she’s very dedicated. We really pushed her, and Fify, I must say, rose to the challenge,” Teh offered.
According to Fify, the workout was an eye-opener to her. “My previous workout just consisted of using some of the equipments at the gym, so all the weight exercises and fight choreography were completely new to me,” stated the actress, who confessed she would cry to her mother on the phone on some days, feeling discouraged about the taxing regime.
“But this is a role of a lifetime, so I pushed myself. It became a norm for me to be covered in bruises and to be constantly sore. On really bad days, I would crawl to my mum’s place and use her bathtub to just dip myself into icy water to ease the muscle pain,” she added.
On the mend
Unfortunately, neither Hairul nor Fify were unscathed from the experience.
Hairul got a broken ankle while filming a sequence that had his character fight a bunch of thugs from the third floor of a building down to the second floor, before he jumped down to the ground floor ... which had to be done in one take! And he had to do this a few times; it was during one of those times he broke the ankle.
“Nine out of 10 actors would refuse to continue at this point,” said Teh. “But Hairul actually wanted to carry on because he wanted it to get it right.
“He got the ankle treated the next day, and came back with a limp, but whenever the camera was on, he was OK. He was that professional.”
Meanwhile, Fify landed wrongly (on her neck!) while rehearsing a body slam move with Ismi and had a stiff neck for days.
She mentioned: “More than anything, I was afraid that I couldn’t do it properly during the actual shoot. But I did it.”
Wira’s official trailer was out in early September and it has been racking up views with the general consensus being, they can’t wait to watch the feature.
According to Teh, audiences can expect some surprises in Wira. For one, there are cameo appearances from Zizan Razak and Jack Lim as a couple of thugs.
Secondly, well, Teh is more secretive on this one. He teased that there will be more to Wira. And that Fify’s character would be at the centre of the next movie. However, he refused to divulge if it would be a sequel or a prequel to Wira.
“I don’t want to say exactly what it is, but Fify’s role is of utmost importance,” said Teh.
“That’s why I really looked into the casting process for the role of Zain and we auditioned almost 1,000 actresses for it.”
For a clue on what that might be, Teh offered: “There’s a surprise at the post-credit scene; it (hints at) something that we are trying to create next. So please stay back after the movie ends and watch the post-credit at the cinemas.”
Wira opens at GSC cinemas nationwide on Nov 21.
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