SIFF Encore - Kallang Roar by Cheng Ding An

This was made as a short prequel to feature length film about how the Kallang Roar was brought back to the National Stadium in 1977. While, the epic-proportions of the soccer battle sounds too daunting for a short film, Ding An rightly focused on only one human drama. It was the pivotal tussle between the national coach Uncle Choo and the team manager Ganesan. It was pivotal because what happened between them led to Singapore’s victory in the Malaysia Cup.
Feeding the audience with vintage shots of Singapore’s glory days in soccer, together with rousing music, one immediately feels a sense of awe and respect for the event. So in the opening shot of Uncle Choo playing chess in Malaysia, there was no need to define who he was. He was what those photos defined him as, a legend. Thankfully, the script did not stop there. It worked hard to give the characters flesh and blood through focusing on their smaller and more personal motivations. Such as a game of chess and kueh lapis. In the game of chess, we see Uncle Choo as an idiosyncratic yet philosophical old man. While his wits are undeniable, he is also part bully, part maverick. Then enters Ganesan with a plastic bag of kueh lapis. It is his trump card to bring Uncle Choo back to coach the Lions. While he manages to coax Uncle Choo back, it is only the beginning a protracted word and mind game between them. The next scene takes place in the changing room (a rather modern looking one though). With the help of sound design (the Kallang Roar vividly in the background), we are thrown straight into the heat of the match. Singapore is not getting anywhere near redeeming itself from a 5 yr drought and Uncle Choo is performing Tai Chi to all of Ganesan’s pressure tactics. Somehow, due to the very scripted acting, one could easily guess what happens next. And it is no surprise that Uncle Choo eventually outwits Ganesan.
Ding An’s Kallang Roar is a bigger achievement on paper than on screen. The lines are well-written, meaningful and milk maximum dramatic effect. And the heaviness of the script required no less than a veteran like Lim Kay Siu to carry it off. But the downside of it was the drama felt too scripted and the lines served the plot completely but less of the characters. Though I am sure a major directorial slant in this was to the focus on a witty exchange, this came at the expense of realism and really understanding Uncle Choo beneath the caricature.
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