KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 9 ― When talk surfaced a few years back that a movie about Datuk Lee Chong Wei was in the works, intense speculation followed about who would play the lead.
The fact that information about the biopic was scarce intensified the gossip further.
Naturally, Lee’s fans began shortlisting potential faces and discussing why this or that actor was best suited to depict the two-time Olympic silver medalist.
But after almost four years of keeping the lid on what is likely the most anticipated sports icon movie to come out since Ola Bola, details are finally available after the production team held its first media conference at the posh Mandarin Oriental Hotel here.
And guess what? Given just how big Lee is (he’s not just a Malaysian sports icon, but arguably a global star), you’d expect the movie to be littered with A-class celebs.
But director Teng Bee (director of the Kepong Gangster franchise) is gambling on the talent of three unheard-of non-professional actors to play the movie’s three leading roles!
The movie is titled Lee Chong Wei: Rise Of The Legend and will be based mostly on true events with some dramatisation.
The first main role ― the young Lee ― will be played by Jake Eng, a 13-year-old from Sungai Besar, a small fishing town in the north-west of Selangor.
Eng, a self-professed huge fan of the badminton star, was among 2,000 people who auditioned for the movie’s main roles.
He said that Teng had initially picked someone else because the director thought the other boy looked more like the young Lee.
“The other kid looked more like Lee Chong Wei.. he was fairer and his face was thinner,” Eng said. ”I thought I lost the role to him so I accepted my fate.. but later I found out I got the role,” he added.
Teng explained later he changed his mind after looking at more photos of Lee as a boy.
“I noticed that his face was rounder and he wasn’t really as skinny... he looked more like Eng,” he said.
The 13-year-old said he wept “for days” after the production team told him he didn’t get the role. In fact he was so heart-broken, Eng literally cried in front of everyone when the director recalled the whole episode at today’s preview.
The other two main roles ― the adult Lee and his wife, Datin Wong Mew Choo ― will be played by 22-year-old Tosh Chan and Ashley Hua respectively.
Like Eng, both have no acting experience and had to go an intense month-long training by professional acting coaches.
To enhance the realism of the movie, the team roped in former player Chan Chong Min, who helped coach the actors on their badminton skills so fans can expect to see Eng and Chan perform some realistic killer jumping smashes or between-the-leg back hands.
Meanwhile exceutive producer Josiah Cheng said the movie will feature advanced camera works meant to make viewers experience the fast-pace game from the perspective of one of badminton’s most gifted player.
“We always view the game from outside, as spectators. The use of robotic arm and high-speed camera technology will help viewers see from his (Lee’s) perspective,” Cheng said.
Despite all the hints and cast list disclosure, the production team remained secretive about the plot.
But based on the cast list, which also boasts an all-star supporting line-up ― Datuk Rosyam Nor, who plays former national shuttler and current national men’s singles coach, Misbun Sidek, and award winning actress Yeo Yann Yann who plays Lee’s mother ― viewers can expect to see the different trials and tribulations in Lee’s life.
Whatever it is, the man whose life on which the movie is based has given his endorsement. Lee, who was present as the guest of honour at today’s event, said he was very impressed with the cast.
“I’m very humbled... and the actors looked a lot like me!” the badminton star said.The film is expected to be released sometime next year.