Actors Johan As’ari, Ruzana Ibrahim, Jerrica Lai and Jimmy Leong tell Dennis Chua of their experience “reliving” battles between the Malaysian Army and Communists
WHILE national heroes who fought colonial powers are well-known amongst most Malaysians, the name Kanang Anak Langkau seldom rings a bell.
We would probably know of the struggles of Leftenan Adnan recorded in the annals of history, but we may need to dig up old newspapers, books and look at Wikipedia articles to find out who Kanang is.
For those with an interest in heroes, especially war heroes, Kanang is making his way to the big screen next month in his very first biopic, Kanang Anak Langkau The Iban Warrior.
Produced by Tangan Seni, the film is directed by Bade Azmi of KL Menjerit and Castello fame. Bade planned the movie with producer Zainal Fikri, as a tribute to East Malaysian heroes and their services to the nation.
Filmed over 55 days in Ipoh, Sri Aman and Kuching two years ago, it zooms in on the life of Sarawak Ranger Datuk Temenggung Kanang Anak Langkau who fought the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) guerillas around Peninsular Malaysia from the 1960s to the 1980s.
The movie focuses on battles between the Malaysian Rangers and the Communists in the jungles surrounding Ipoh in the 1980s in which platoon leader Kanang showed uncommon courage in tracking down the enemy and taking them down although outnumbered.
Kanang’s superb survival skills were the result of his grandfather’s traditional wisdom. A headman, his grandfather taught him how to survive in the jungles by tracing animals and people with the help of signs on trees and tracks on the ground.
Kanang’s son Langgi Anak Kanang, who is also a soldier, plays the war hero. The film also stars Johan As’ari, Jimmy Leong, Jerrica Lai, Ruzana Ibrahim, Amai Kamaruddin, Adam Shahz and Livonia Ricky.
Popular singer Hazama Azmi performs the theme song, Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban, his first Iban number which is named after Kanang’s famous war cry that reads, “as long as I live, I fight”. It is written by Azlan Roslee and composed by Annuar Razak.
BAD BOY TURNS ACTION HERO
Johan found fame playing Botak in the hit TV drama series Juvana eight years ago. A resident of the Wira Bakti home for delinquents, Botak was known for bullying juniors in the home. In Kanang Anak Langkau, Johan plays a highly-disciplined soldier named Korporal Wan Sharifuddin, Kanang’s best friend.
“Wan Sharifuddin is based on a real character who fought Communist terrorists in the jungles of Peninsular Malaysia alongside Kanang. Both had a ‘never say die’ attitude,” says Johan in an interview with the NST.
Singapore actor Adi Putra recommended Johan to director Bade and producer Zainal.
“Initially, I didn’t fancy playing a soldier. However, Adi and Bade told me I could do it, so I decided to take up the challenge.”
Adi plays a friend of Kanang named Korporal Omar, and Johan says he gave the best portrayal of a soldier amongst the cast. “Whenever Adi plays a real-life person, he virtually lives and breathes the character. I followed his lead and gave my best portraying Korporal Wan Sharifuddin, though I think I should have sounded more intimidating.”
Johan’s most terrifying scene is the one where he has to behead Communists while the Malaysian Rangers storm the former’s hideout in the jungles of Hulu Kinta, Ipoh. “Thus far, I’ve never ‘killed’ anybody on screen and beheading terrorists with a sword came as a rude shock to me. The make-up was gruesome!”
When asked about working with Langgi, Johan is all praise for the national hero’s son. “He’s just like his late, great father. I was so honoured to meet him, and I really enjoyed working with him because he knew exactly what he wanted for every scene.”
The biggest challenge Johan faced was the use of fireworks for explosions. “These fireworks were really loud, and terrifying. Fighting arm-to-arm combat was also difficult, getting thrown to the ground by my bigger co-stars.
“I’d like to thank abang Bade for giving me the opportunity to play a real-life soldier. I embraced my role with pride, and became braver and wiser by the end of filming.”
HONOURED TO PLAY VILLAIN
Kanang Anak Langkau is not Jerrica Lai’s big screen debut but it is her first action movie. “This time, I get to play someone very different from the sweet journalist Rafflesia Pong in the romantic comedy Sell Out, my first feature film back in 2008.
“I’m Chin Hua, a tough, brave and ruthless Communist guerilla and one of two right-hand women of the Communist chief of Perak, Nam Yat,” says Lai.
Chin Hua does not appear in many scenes, but when she does, viewers will “definitely despise her”.
Lai said the week-long army training which the actors underwent was very tough, but it gave her “a lot of satisfaction” as it improved her fitness level tremendously. “Most of us, me included, got bruised, but at the end of the day, I felt good thinking of all the hard work I put in to make my character believable.”
The most enjoyable stunt she did on the set was sliding down muddy paths on small hills in the jungle. “I literally got down and dirty!”
As for her most terrifying task, Lai says it was the noisy explosions almost every day. “I always had the fear that one day, a real bomb would go off and hurt me! Thankfully, the Armed Forces made sure we were 100 per cent safe.”
Lai thanks Bade for being a hands-on director who involved himself in all aspects of production, especially testing the ground with the cameramen. “He made sure everybody was out of danger’s way.”
Meanwhile, Ruzana is no stranger to playing mean girls. Ruzana, who plays Senah, a Communist with a heart, was glad to play a real-life character. “Not every Communist is one-dimensional — some are very human, be they team leaders or deputy team leaders.” Senah is against harassing village folk and extorting excess food or household items from them.
A theatre actress whose credits include Puteri Gunung Ledang The Musical, P. Ramlee The Musical, and Mencari Sumayah, Ruzana has appeared in several TV series and dramas, most notably Kisah Cinta. “Having appeared on TV has helped me in adapting to big screen acting. I’m glad I have the opportunity to act in Kanang Anak Langkau because it’s a story that I strongly identify with.”
She identifies with Kanang because he is an unsung hero and is glad that Bade chose Langgi to play him. “Langgi is every bit like his father. I learnt a lot about his father’s illustrious life from him during breaks.”
NICE GUY JIMMY BECOMES CHIEF OF THE CTS
Jimmy Leong, 46, occasionally plays baddies in TV dramas.
The Malacca-born was surprised to play Nam Yat, the main antagonist in Kanang Anak Langkau because he never thought his looks were “mean enough”.
“Nevertheless, with a little make-up, I was transformed into the tyrannical Nam Yat, who is based on a real guerilla fighter, too.”
Nam Yat, he says, excels in building booby traps to finish off Kanang. However, the hero always outsmarts him with his superior knowledge.
When Bade was offered to direct the movie in 2013, he did a year’s research on the subject. “I shot the movie in two months, and editing took two years — the producer conceptualised the movie in 2000.”
He says after filming Leftenan Adnan in 2000, he recommended that the Malaysian Armed Forces do a film about Kanang.
Bade says they interviewed Kanang’s army friends to get a clearer picture of the hero. “Working with Langgi was fantastic. He is polite, courteous and very honest.”
Bade says it was hard to find a suitable person to play Kanang, as there are few Iban talents in the movie industry. As a result, they asked Langgi if he would like to, and he agreed. “It was great that the Army lent a hand. It provided transport and logistics, camps and helicopters.”
Bade says the 50-member crew and 1,000-member cast comprised young actors from Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Australia and the UK. “It’s a truly international cast and the foreigners played officials in the Army during British rule in Malaya.”
What is important, says Bade, is that Kanang’s family, who describes the film as timely, is happy and satisfied with the end result. Bade hopes to have an opportunity to put out more films about national heroes, among them, Sarawakian Rentap.
Kanang Anak Langkau The Iban Warrior will open in cinemas on March 16.
THE LIFE AND TIMES OF KANANG ANAK LANGKAU
BORN on March 2, 1945, in Julau near Sarikei, Sarawak, Datuk Kanang Anak Langkau served the Royal Ranger Regiment and was a Regimental Sergeant Major of the 8th Rangers of the Malaysian Army.
Awarded the Panglima Gagah Berani (Star of the Commander of Valour) and Seri Pahlawan Gagah Perkasa (Grand Knight of Valour) medals from the seventh Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Sultan Ahmad Shah of Pahang on June 3, 1981, he is the sole recipient of both.
The most decorated soldier in Malaysian military history, he began army life as an Iban tracker in 1962.
As a Sergeant, Kanang was involved in an operation at the Gunung Korbu Forest Reserve in Fort Legap, Ipoh, Perak on June 1, 1979, pursuing Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) guerillas.
Two rangers and five Communists were killed in the subsequent battle. On Feb 8, 1980 in Tanah Hitam, Ipoh, Kanang led another platoon and found a much larger enemy force. They killed five Communists, but Kanang was shot thrice.
In 2011, he received the Panglima Gemilang Bintang Kenyalang (Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of Hornbill Sarawak) with the title of Datuk by the sixth Yang di-Pertua Negeri of Sarawak, Tun Abang Muhammad Salahuddin Abang Barieng.
Kanang died on Jan 2, 2013 aged 68. He was buried at the Makam Pahlawan in Kuching. He is survived by his wife Datin Brawang Chunggat and six children.