Movie Review: Ola Bola

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This Malaysian production took its inspiration from the Olympic games qualification for the 1980 national football team. Helmed by Chiu Keng Guan, the acclaimed director of ‘The Journey’, one can expect a touching film with a lot of heart. That is pretty much what you’ll get: a movie that will make you root for the protagonists and cheer when it ends. However, it is far from perfect, and the shortcomings are hard to ignore.

The film is basically an underdog story, with the Malaysian football team trying their best to qualify for the 1980 Olympic games after narrowly missing out four years ago. In what was to be captain Chow Kwok Keong’s last chance at the Olympics, the stakes couldn’t be higher; the team must learn to work together and resolve their issues with the newly-appointed coach, Harry Mountain.

As a Malaysian and a football fan, I like this movie. There are a few heartwarming bits regarding unity, dedication and achieving your dreams. Those who are familiar with the Malaysian culture will find a few chuckles although I am not sure how well those content translate to non-Malaysians.

Unfortunately, the imperfections I’ve mentioned at the beginning of this post marred an otherwise great movie. For starters, the acting abilities leave a lot to be desired. Certain dramatic/emotional moments were ruined by woeful overacting. It was hard to take the characters’ struggles seriously when poignant moments were acted out with forced tears, screamed deliveries and chest thumpings.

Then there was the matter of characters. Some of the characters were well developed, and it was nice to see the chemistry between a few of them. My favourite characters were Mei Ling as Chow’s sister, and Rahman as the ever enthusiastic commentator; the former nailed it in a scene where she chastised her brother. However, Chow proved to be a weak link, as his constant sour expression got tedious halfway through the movie. His lady love, Siew Lee, was not much better; she was disposable and two dimensional as the ever-supportive girlfriend, and hardly got any lines.

Lastly, I question the decision to write the Koreans (the opponents) as villains. While I am not sure how historically accurate the match was (for sure the final score was changed from 2-1 to 3-2), painting the Koreans as sneaky villains gave the climax a ridiculous feel. It was as if the director was afraid that the audience would not root for the main characters if they weren’t shown in contrast to some mean footballers. We are not watching a James Bond film, we don’t need sneaky, cheating villains! We can support the main characters because we saw how hard they trained and followed their struggles. Have some faith in your characters, will ya? After all, we did spend an hour or so watching them mope, whine, argue and eventually learn to cooperate with each other (through a dramatic training montage too!) on screen.

Still, as far as Malaysian made films go, this definitely ranks as one of the better ones. The story is not bad, and there are quite a lot of endearing moments despite some of the weaker parts. Malaysians would love the sense of unity and the nostalgia evoked, and it certainly made me wish that our football team will return to its golden years.

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