After touching the hearts of Malaysians with Juang, a film that pays tribute to Malaysia’s frontliners during the pandemic, director Matt Lai is back to entertain Malaysians with his new action-comedy, What! The Heist.
The movie – a co-production between Malaysia and Singapore – revolves around Chow Yun Fatt, an actor who’s desperately finding money to fund his daughter’s medical bills.
One day, he gets recruited by a team of geniuses who vow to make him rich if he helps them rig a lottery worth RM100mil.
Speaking with StarLifestyle, Lai shared that the story was heavily inspired by the Spanish Netflix series, Money Heist.
“I wanted to do a comedy version of Money Heist,” he said. “Just like Money Heist, there’s a character in this film who goes by the nickname ‘The Professor’. I also took inspiration from Johnny English for the comedy bits.”
What! The Heist, a RM4mil project, was shot in 30 days around Klang Valley and Putrajaya.
Lai revealed that much thought was put into selecting the cast members since the film was a joint production.
“I wanted stars that best represent Malaysia and Singapore. My priority was to find comedians who can act since this is an action-comedy movie,” he explained.
The film is led by Singaporean actor Mark Lee and Malaysian actor Jack Lim.
The lineup includes Malaysian stars Jaspers Lai, Gan Mei Yan, Choo Hao Ren, Ahirine Ahirudin, Grace Teo and Singaporean actors Patricia Mok and Henry Thia.
During the press conference, Lim, who portrays criminal mastermind The Professor, said this was his first time working with Lee after 15 years.
“The happiest experience for me was collaborating with Mark. The last time we acted together was in 2008 (Ah Long Ptd Lte).
“Mark and I improvised a lot during the shoot. We shared many similar ideas for the film which is why we worked so well together,” he explained.
Similarly, Lee shared that he had a pleasant experience working with Lim.
“Working with Jack again after so long, I can see that he’s changed a lot. His acting has improved tremendously and his ideas are much more mature now. I was really amazed by his performance,” the 54-year-old Singaporean said.
To prepare for his role, Lee revealed that he studied scenes from popular Hong Kong shows in the early to late 2000s.
“My character is the impersonator of the team. There’s a few scenes in the movie where I copy famous roles like Andy Lau in Infernal Affairs, Tony Leung in In The Mood For Love and Donnie Yen in Ip Man,” he elaborated.
When asked about the funniest experience on set, the whole cast agreed on one scene involving Jaspers, who plays Ya Good – the protagonist’s manager who is also recruited for the heist.
In the scene, Ya Good is hiding from a CEO underneath a desk. The CEO unknowingly sticks his big toe into Ya Good’s mouth.
Jaspers – who doubles as the film’s screenwriter – revealed that the toe was really put into his mouth during the shoot.
“It was a funny yet disgusting experience for me. The worst part was that it wasn’t even done in one take.
“I don’t even know why our director wanted it to be shot so many times. After that scene, I immediately gargled and rinsed my mouth with water,” the 35-year-old said with a laugh.
Of course, no filming goes by without its own sets of challenges.
Being the only non-Mandarin speaker among the cast, local actress Ahirine admitted that the language barrier was the most challenging part of the shoot.
“I’m grateful for everyone who helped me during filming. I can’t speak Mandarin well, so 95% of the time, I was just guessing what they were saying,” she said.
Ahirine wasn’t the only star who experienced difficulty with the language. Lim confessed that he too struggled with speaking Mandarin.
“I normally speak in Cantonese but for this entire film, I had to speak in Mandarin. I spent a long time practising, so I hope everyone thinks I did well,” he said.
Director Lai has high hopes for What! The Heist.
When asked about his expectations for the film, the 43-year-old responded: “I hope the movie will make RM3mil to RM5mil at the Malaysian box office. If it does well, there’s a chance that we may all go to India to film the sequel.
“As a director, I believe we should branch out to other Asian markets and going someplace different like India will definitely help diversify our market,” he said.
What! The Heist opens at cinemas nationwide today.