The director has said that the film is just inspired by true events, but Sabahans are hotly debating the plot and the casting.
“SO it was actually James Wong who scored the winning goal,” said a 50-something woman from Peninsular Malaysia.
“Yes, it was James Wong,” I said.
“In the movie it was not James Wong who scored,” she said, referring to Eric Yong, the OlaBola character who is loosely inspired by James Wong.
“No, watch the video clip of James Wong scoring the winning goal. I’ll send it to you via WhatsApp,” I said.
Wong scored the final goal in the deciding match against South Korea for Malaysia to qualify for the 1980 Olympics. The team, however, did not play in the Moscow Games as Malaysia supported the United States-led boycott of the Soviet Union during the Cold War era.
OlaBola is a movie directed by Chiu Keng Guan. The feel-good movie is set in 1980, focusing on the national football team training to qualify for the 1980 Olympics. It is produced by Astro Shaw and has raked in RM12 million in its first 18 days of screening.
OlaBola, said Wong, should have stuck to the facts. This way, the Sabahan told Bernama, younger audiences would not be confused.
Hassan Sani, a Sabahan who was Wong’s twin striker partner in the match, also said that the film should have been more factual. For example, he said as reported by Bernama, the score for Malaysia vs South Korea was 2-1 and not 3-2 as in the film.
I’ve been following the responses from my fellow Sabahans in various WhatsApp groups. Here are some of the comments.
> “It should be Eric Yong (James Wong,) the pride of Sabah, to score the historical goal, never understand why Ali is the scorer.... Why change the proud history of Malaysian football.... a very poor presentation of Malaysia football history...OlaBola....u can never cheat history.
> Don’t waste your money and time to watch the movie, OlaBola! I was going to watch it few days ago in KL due to rave reviews but my bro-in-law and friends confirmed that not Eric but Ali who scored.
> The younger n future generations MUST know the TRUE facts of Malaysia football.
> All of us here have a very strong feeling about being a Sabahan and the way we have been treated by our West Malaysian counterparts.
> The movie is not a documentary or biography. Names and storyline can be changed and also altered for the big screen. The movie’s main theme is about the true spirit of 1Malaysia. That’s the main message of the movie if we look at it from bigger picture.
Chiu, the director, according to Bernama, “has dismissed complaints about factual inaccuracies by pointing out that the film is just inspired by true events.”
In the movie, with less than five minutes left on the clock, Ali passes the ball to Eric Yong. Eric shimmies around the defence but finds no space. Ali darts towards the box and Eric finds him. A brilliant cross from Eric and Ali... (Watch the movie to find out what happens next).
In reality, here’s how history was made. The audio by Zulkarnain Hassan is from a video clip of the famous goal.
“Jung-Moo, ke tengah, Khalid, dapat kepada Hassan, masih lagi Hassan, cocok Hassan, Hassan, Young-jeung mengejar, kepada James, peluang untuk James, James, gol! Gol! (Jung-Moo to the centre, Khalid heads it out to Hassan, still Hassan, Hassan moves forward, Young-jeung chases Hassan, Hassan passes it to James, chance for James, James, goal! Goal!)”
My friend Nadira Ilana, a filmmaker who directed Silent Riot, a documentary on the Sabah riots of 1986, posted a critical commentary on Facebook on OlaBola.
“Ola Bola isn’t without its merits but it’s become a topic of debate among Sabahans who remember that it was James Wong, a Sabahan, who scored that Olympic-qualifying goal for Malaysia,” wrote the Sabahan.
“It’s not a question of creative licence when you go all the way to Sabah just to shoot our train then have a ‘Sabahan’ character speaking with a Peninsular accent,” she said.
OlaBola is not an anomaly. When you look at films that have been shot in Sabah, often times the directors are from the Peninsula. If you’ve ever watched telemovies like Hatiku Di Kinabalu, Lobak and Akinabalu, it’s Malays who are cast to play Sabahans and a lot of the time, the actors don’t even try to pick up the accent,” she wrote.
“Yet we wonder why the film industry in Sabah and Sarawak is so weak and our people all have to move to KL when we could be making films back home. The Malaysian film industry doesn’t consider us as a real demographic because we have ‘too few cinemas’ but it’s also because Malaysian films are never made with Sabahan and Sarawakian audiences in mind.”
Nadira concluded: “This is a film preaching Malaysian unity. Ali is just as much of a side character as Eric Yong so why not? It at least begs the question – what was the purpose of this creative decision?”
“No doubt, OlaBola is an important film during a time when Malaysia needs the morale boost the most – but what about the whole of Malaysia?” she posted.
On the bright side, because of the popularity of OlaBola (and the controversy over the winning goal), people are sharing the historical video clip of James scoring. Malaysians, who have forgotten or were not born when King James netted the winning goal, now know who scored.