Director Bade Azmi had the unenviable task of helping to turn Kanang Anak Langkau: The Iban Warrior movie into a reality.
He initially turned down the job when he was offered it in 2013. “Then I got another call from the producer and someone from Finas (National Film Development Corporation Malaysia). They explained why I should take on the job … I finally agreed,” the director, famous for movies like KL Menjerit and Castello, said during an interview in Kuala Lumpur.
The idea to make an action movie based on the bravery of the late Datuk Kanang Anak Langkau – widely considered as one of the most decorated soldiers in Malaysia – came from producer Zainal Fikri.
“Seven years in the making. That’s how long we took to make this movie about Kanang,” Zainal said.
Kanang was an Iban jungle trekker-turned-soldier who fought against communist insurgency with the Malaysian Armed Forces in the 1960s. He received the Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa medal (ranked highest in list of federal awards) for his services.
Zainal had met Kanang during an event in Sarawak in 2009. At that time, he asked for Kanang’s blessing to let him turn his story into a movie.
“Five other producers have approached him before. But none of it materialised. So, it seemed that he had given up. He said I have to speak to the Ministry Of Defence to get their approval as he is an army veteran,” Zainal remembered.
Zainal went to the ministry and got the green light he needed. It became his life mission to tell Kanang’s story simply because, well, he was inspired.
“He was a man with no formal education who strived to protect his country at all cost. He survived three shots to the body. His story was something different,” Zainal explained.
Zainal spent years looking for funding to make the movie. At the same time, he also searched far and wide for an actor to play Kanang.
When Lance Corporal Langgi Anak Kanang was asked to play his late father in the movie, he turned down the offer. The 36-year-old soldier with the Malaysian Armed Forces didn’t think he was cut out to play the role.
“So, I went to almost every army camp in the country to find an Iban soldier who can play Kanang. When I couldn’t find anyone, I had to ask Langgi again. I told him that no one else could do it,” offered Zainal. Langgi finally relented and agreed to play his father in the movie.
Zainal also got the financial backing he was seeking. Things were looking up.
Sadly, Kanang died in January 2013, at the age of 67. The production for Kanang Anak Langkau: The Iban Warrior had to be postponed for the script to be revised. Bade had hoped for Kanang to be a part of the production as an adviser.
“I started thinking of how I can do this movie when Kanang is no longer around to tell me his story?” the director said. Bade got in touch with Kanang’s fellow soldiers to help him fill in the blanks.
“Somehow, it worked to my advantage. I got to tell Kanang’s story from different perspectives.”
His other challenge was to make the movie entertaining to the audience as well.
“It’s not easy to bring a historical film to life. If we dwell too much on facts, we might lose the viewers’ interest. So, we have to make the pace faster. We have to find a balance,” the director said about the movie which completed shooting in 2013.
Zainal said that he can finally breathe a sigh of relief.
At the movie premiere, Langgi who is a man of few words, shared which scene affected him the most. “My father had told me stories about him getting shot. I feel sad having to see that on screen.”