Editorial Film & TV

Review: Finding relevance in Astro’s new documentary ‘Harimau Malaya 1980’

ONCE upon a time in 1980, history was made in Malaysia. There was a special moment which united people in this county from different racial, religious and even political backgrounds, and this moment has even been made into a hit movie which made well over RM16,000,000 at the box office. Of course we’re talking about Ola Bola!

In commemoration of Malaysia Day last Friday (decades after independence from colonial rule) a special documentary was aired to illustrate the strong and hearty football team who overcame various challenges on their journey to the Moscow Olympics in 1980. Harimau Malaya (as it was known back then) a.k.a. the ‘Dream Team’ scored some airtime for a show-and-tell-and-reminisce session thanks to the brand new project.

But considering that Malaysian football history began in the 1800s, isn’t it puzzling that merely qualifying for the Moscow Olympics is such a big deal when we’ve just won gold and silver for other sports events at the most recent Olympics? How bad are we at football that these 1980’s soccer stars are still being revered today even though they never reached the actual Oympics itself?

Don’t get us wrong, we understand: football was a sport which arrived with the British colonists (“sukan penjajah”) and it’s not something we’re programmed to do according to our genes. In fact, the obsession for football as a national sport is probably as valid as the obsession for Arabic values and desert Muslim fashion on a tropical archipelago.

But we digress. Since the British brought football over to Malaysia, it has become the country’s leading sport. In fact, within a hundred years of its existence, football rapidly become available in most Malaysian sports clubs.

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Produced by Astro, Harimau Malaya 1980 is the inspirational tale of the Dream Team, told through a heartfelt and inspiring documentary which will bring back memories of better days and make football enthusiasts, young and old come together.

This is a documentary of sacrifices and the acknowledgement of the national team’s struggle against the South Korean team in a pivotal match, and as such viewers get to see how these players had to reconstruct and rebuild everything that they knew from ground zero.

Former captain of the Dream Team Soh Chin Aun was the only player that had played in previous qualifiers, and he was the only one carried through into the 1980 lineup. We also learn that he was considered the main pillar of the team, hence the title “Taukeh”.

Harimau Malaya 1980 also presents other legends such as Hassan Sani, James Wong, and Santokh Singh, on top of former national squad coach, Karl-Heinz Weigang. While most of them have grown elderly, they’ve lost none of the sparkle which led them to their success at the Moscow Olympics.

It also becomes clear by the end of the documentary that the story of Harimau Malaya is special not because they almost made it, but because they persisted despite the odds and discovered the beauty of teamwork. Harimau Malaya 1980 also very importantly pushes for unity through its portrayal of multiracial, harmonious Malaysia.

Astro’s latest documentary isn’t a mere cash-in on Ola Bola‘s grand success; it’s a successful attempt at revisiting the nostalgia which caused uproarious celebrations 36 years ago all across Malaysia. In an industry saturated by language division and increasingly homogeneous representation, these sort of projects are a vital source of perspective, and a healthy reminder of everything that makes Malaysia special.

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In case you missed it? Tune into Harimau Malaya 1980 on Astro Arena (CH 801/ HD CH 802) and Astro SuperSport (CH 810/ HD CH 831) as well as Astro on the Go for a chance to catch the documentary! Written by Yolanda Amelia and Deric Ect.

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