"Lee Chong Wei" delivers a near-perfect smash

Datuk Wira Lee Chong Wei at the gala premiere of his biographical film last Friday at Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

14 Mar – Mention the name Lee Chong Wei and every Malaysian within hearing distance will puff up with pride, even those who's never touched a badminton racquet in their life would recognise the name without the assistance of any online search engine.

It is only fitting then that the nation's hero receives a movie focusing entirely on him and his rise to becoming a legend not only in his own country but also on the international stage.

"Lee Chong Wei: Rise of the Legend" follows Lee's life from a young age, when as a little boy he discovered his passion and talent in badminton, up to the moments when he had to face off against his rival on the court, China's two-time Olympic champion, Lin Dan.

Cinema Online had the pleasure of catching the 133-minute director's cut that was screened at the movie's record-breaking gala premiere, held on 9 March at Bukit Jalil National Stadium.

So here's our two cents on the near-perfect smash delivered by "Lee Chong Wei".

As the movie title indicates, the biopic is not about the glitz and glamour of being an internationally-recognised badminton champion. No, it is the journey undertaken by said champion, the years he spent struggling and training before he was the World's No.1 Player (as ranked by the World Badminton Federation (BWF)) and bestowed the title 'legend' by admiring fans who aspire to follow in his footsteps one day.

A big group of fans from China eagerly waiting for the movie to screen.

Lee's childhood and adolescence were a complicated tangle of being too poor to even dream of owning a racquet, being laughed at by other kids for his underprivileged life, having a strict father who absolutely did not approve of him playing badminton and having a gentle mother (Khor Kim Choi, played by Yeo Yann Yann) as well as encouraging mentors who set him on his path to becoming who he is today.

Not to say that his father is the villain, however, stick around to see how Lee Ah Chai (played by Singapore's Mark Lee who cheekily threw in a few words about Singaporeans in his dialogue that made the crowd titter) eventually became one of the sturdy rocks in the badminton champion's life.

The movie was no doubt visually arresting, thanks to cinematographer Eric Yeong. Even just a shuttlecock perched precariously atop a badminton net was mesmerising to watch, and that was just in the opening scene, so the audience can rest assure knowing that the rest of the movie will follow the same stylistic setup. Though the movie does suffer from choppy editing on certain parts, resulting in some rather abrupt cut of visual and audio elements, it shouldn't take away too much from the audience's enjoyment of it.

Story-wise, those who've read Lee's biography "Dare to be a Champion" will be familiar with it, though director Teng Bee and producers Josiah Cheng, Ben Lee and Tony Hu did add several dramatic touches to make it more apt for a big screen adaptation.

The enthusiastic cast of "Lee Chong Wei"!

The main cast, made up of Tosh Chan who bears a striking resemblance to the titular hero he stars as, Jake Eng as the young Lee, Ashley Hua as Lee's love interest and now real-life wife Wong Mew Choo, and Datuk Rosyam Nor as Lee's mentor Dato' Misbun Sidek, delivers a solid performance despite most of them being newcomers in the acting industry.

The movie doesn't just show the audience the story of Lee's early life, it also inspires everyone watching to work harder in achieving their dreams, imparts the message that everyone must have faith in themselves and in a sense, it also instills patriotism – there's just something about watching sports and especially seeing the side you're rooting for winning that immediately forges a bond among spectators (when watching this movie in cinema, expect the hall to keep erupting into cheers whenever Lee is on the court, especially when Lin Dan enters the scene).

As mentioned earlier, the movie screened at the gala premiere was the director's cut, so the official movie that will be showing in cinemas will be 8 minutes shorter with a runtime of 125 minutes.

The gala premiere of Datuk Wira Lee Chong Wei's biopic made an entry
not only in the Malaysia Book of Records but also the Asia Book of Records.

Befitting a world champion, the gala premiere broke records by being the largest movie premiere set in Malaysia as well as in Asia with an attendance of 20,000 strong, while the movie was screened on a special-built 40 metre x 17 metre LED screen.

Among the crowd that night was Lee himself with his wife and sons, Terrance and Kingston, the Sidek brothers, and fans not only from Malaysia but also other countries like Singapore and China.

Datuk Wira Lee Chong Wei's eponymous biopic opens in cinemas nationwide on 15 March 2018.

Cinema Online, 14 March 2018