Released just in time between 62nd Merdeka Day and Malaysia Day this 16 September, Suatu Ketika (literally means “Once Upon a Time”) tells a story during the pre-independence era of 1952 Malaya about Pak Sa’ad (Nam Ron) and Cikgu Sulaiman (Pekin Ibrahim) forming a team of local underprivileged kids from Ujong Pasir School (among them are Danial Akmal Fariz’s Syukri and Dheva Naish’s Suresh) to compete against the British players of St James School for the JG Davidson Cup football tournament.
Underdog sports movies are basically nothing new, as evidently seen in numerous like-minded Hollywood movies from Rocky (1976), Cool Runnings (1993) and Remember the Titans (2000) to our very own locally-produced Ola Bola (2016) and Lee Chong Wei (2018). Suatu Ketika follows the same pattern, complete with almost every sports-movie clichés imaginable. Inspirational speeches, obligatory training montage, last-minute comeback — you basically know the drill if you’ve seen enough underdog sports movies in the past.
As conventional as the movie can be, kudos still go to co-writer and director Prakash Murugiah — making his feature-length directorial debut after working as an assistant director in movies like Sepi and Tipu Kanan Tipu Kiri (both released in 2008) — for able to craft a reasonably earnest, albeit a tad melodramatic underdog story with relatable themes like unity and persistence.
Whereas the dialogues tend to sound stilted, the cast manages to make up for most of the shortcomings. Both Nam Ron and Pekin Ibrahim gave solid supports as Pak Sa’ad and Cikgu Sulaiman but it was the kids who play the Ujong Pasir football players that surprised me the most. What’s even more impressive is that each of them has no prior acting experience. But these kids prove to be a great find, as they successfully carry their respective roles well enough and even share wonderful on-screen chemistry together as a team.
Suatu Ketika is also blessed with Nurhanisham Muhammad’s gorgeous lensing of the sleepy village of Ujong Pasir, which are shot in various Peninsular Malaysia locations including Banting, Kuala Selangor and Kuala Kangsar. Equally worth praising is the heartwarming soundtrack — notably, Datuk Zainal Abidin’s “Ayuhlah” — that complement well with the movie’s overall feel-good tone.