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Kallang Roar: Conceptualising [Interview with Cheng Ding An – Part 1]

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Over the national day season, local movie Kallang Roar made its way to our cinema screens as an apt gift for our nation’s 43rd birthday. Boasting an interesting selection of cast members ranging from local veteran Lim Kay Siu to the sons of local football legends, the film revolves around the ’77 Lion’s victory at the Malaysia Cup finals.

In conjunction with the film’s recent DVD release, Sinema.SG brings you the first of a series of interviews which covers the film’s production: from concept to celluloid. Today we kick off with an interview with the film’s director, Cheng Ding An, about the film’s scripting and story-moulding process.

kr1.jpgBenjamin Tan (BT): Hi Ding An. So let’s begin with your script. How did you find the story? Why did you choose to make a film about Singapore football?

Ding An (DA): First of all I love football. Between football and film, I have 50% of passion for each. I would have been either a football player or a filmmaker. There’s no way I can make a football film and be successful if the football film had no meaning, and so I thought about my dad and the taxi drivers I’ve met who’ve all heard of this Uncle Choo character. I went to do some research at the library’s South-East Asian collection section, and every day I’d research about him.

I’ve read every single page on sports in the newspapers from 1977, and he’d hog every single article for something he had said, or something he did. He was a big thing, an icon. He made a huge sacrifice and he believed in football a lot. He cut off his leg just for football and he never stopped believing in it even when the world stopped believing in him. That was something I didn’t have at that point in time – I couldn’t believe in something that much. I mean, I was in some school teams here and there, but when chips were down, I gave up. And I shouldn’t have done that. So from him I saw the sort of energy that a human being could have, and that such a person can exist.

BT: So what else did your research involve?

DA: The story isn’t just about Uncle Choo. It also involved the players from that era. So I started from there – the 70’s. There were household names like Quah Kim Song and Dollah Kassim, players whose names still linger in people’s ears, but are soon going to fade away. I wanted to go back to the roots of the ear, and the year 1977 was the height of the Kallang Roar. So I went to find them, sourcing out from different contacts, finding out their different stories as I tracked them down. Kim Song is at FAS (Football Association of Singapore). I just walked in without knowing him personally, and without seeing him before, but I knew he was there. I went to where I think the Tampines Rovers were where he was chairman, and asked for him. They said he was at the FAS so I just walked in. He was stunned to see me, but he invited me to sit down and talk, so I asked him about stuff. At that point I didn’t know yet what I was doing. When I met Kim Song I didn’t know what the topic was going to be. I just went down to get a feel of what I wanted because the script wasn’t out yet. I just wanted to hear what he had to say, and he gave me the lowdown on the local football history – the past and the present. He also shared with me his thoughts and opinions of the current football scene.

There was this other guy called Patrick Ang whom we’ve invited to a meeting, and he was very helpful. He was from the era of Fandi Ahmad, an era later from Uncle Choo’s, and he was one of the fathers of local football too. A lot of people don’t know of him because he was very quiet. When I found him, he called up all the ex-players and told them, “This young man is making this film. Support him. He’ll look for you now.” He hung up, and true enough, they all listened to him. And one by one I got to speak to them.

kr2.jpgBT: We all know you made a short on which this movie was based which screened at the Singapore International Film Festival (SIFF). Why did you choose to make the short first, followed by the feature?

DA: The script of the feature was out first, actually. The short film was just one scene from the original script. I needed to test the market, and make all the errors and experiment. It was very low budget, just two scenes and two locations. The focus was on the characterisations and the script; it really was just two actors doing their stuff. The short was also a test  for Kay Siu, of how the film feels with him as Uncle Choo. As much as Kay Siu was my first choice, I had try him out. I tracked him down without knowing him personally, and he turned out to be a very nice guy. He wanted to help me out and he was all: “Let’s do this!”

BT: What were some of the lessons you took from the making of the short that you brought over to the feature?

DA: My short was a bit draggy. It had too much dialogue. I liked it because I like Tarantino’s films, and the dialogues that he has written are very strong. He can just put two people at a coffeeshop and make them talk, and it’d be riveting. But I realised that his cast are usually celebrities with a lot of weight as stars, so audiences won’t mind watching John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson talk for 30 minutes about rubbish. For the short, I wrote in the same fashion but I felt that it needed more; it had too much emptiness and space. People wanted action, they wanted to see the football matches. They wanted it shortened and to see more than just dialogue. They wanted actions to tell the story more then just words.

BT: Which was what we saw in the feature film.

DA: Yes, the feature is more action packed. The scenes were not just designed to reveal characters and deep philosophy. They are designed to bring out emotions and laughter too, and to reveal characters quicker so you can get to the exciting bits.

BT: What are some of the differences, and how different was the experience?

DA: There’s many vast differences, though its about the same team. We went about looking for a bigger team, and it was like upgrading from version 1.0 to version 10.1. It was a big jump. And financing was difficult to secure too. Some of the people we spoke to liked what we wanted to do; they liked football, and so they came on board. Some of these people were folks like Milo, Canon, Phoenix 1516. These were the key ones and they were very supportive and helped a lot. The whole production changed, and the whole picture changed. I didn’t know where to start…

Watch this space as Sinema.SG Brings you more on Kallang Roar in the next installment!

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