Monday, November 22, 2004

Cambodia's cinematic revival

Santepheap has a posting about the Cambodian cinema revival. It links to an Agence France Presse article.

Since the fall of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and the Vietnamese-backed regime of the 1980s, it's become okay for Cambodians to watch TV again, with most of the programming consisting of pirated TV soap operas and television transmissions, dubbed in Khmer. Then, last year, a Thai actress' comments outraged Cambodians. She later denied making any harmful statements, but by then it was too late. The damage was done. The Cambodians' anger was stoked into full-fledged rioting that saw the sacking of the Thai Embassy and several Thai-owned businesses in Phnom Penh. Thai TV programming was banned. To fill the hole, aspiring Cambodian filmmakers have grabbed some digital cameras and set about making movies.

Most of their efforts are pretty amateurish, as Santepheap and the article point out.

Prominent producer Yvon Hem, famed for his 1960s and 70s films, said one reason for the boom is cheap digitised production, but he lamented today's dreadful standards.

A near complete lack of training across the industry results in some storylines stumbling to a halt without resolution or even main characters suddenly disappearing from the script.

"Most people seem just seem to come to a movie because they want a quiet place to meet their girlfriend or boyfriend," Yvon Hem sighed.

The article does give a bit of history on the Cambodian film industry, which had its heyday in the 1960s and was led by King Norodom Sihanouk, who wrote, produced, directed, starred in and scored several films.

However, the article is remiss in mentioning the 2001 film, the Snake King's Child, which was really the beginning of the current revival. A Thai-backed co-production, it was Cambodia's first full-length feature in a long time. And, it was pretty good. I caught it in theaters just after I moved to Thailand in 2001. The cool special effects actually involved a wig of real, live snakes being worn by the lead actress. It was dubbed in Thai, but featured mostly Cambodian actors and was directed by a Cambodian. The leading man was Thailand's Winai Kraibutr, from Nang Nak, Bang Rajan and other films.

The article mentions Tomb Raider, which was filmed at Angkor Wat, yet doesn't mention Matt Dillon's City of Ghosts, which is much better at evoking the character of the country than the bombastic video-game adaptation is.

The article also fails to mention Rithy Panh, a French-trained Cambodian director who has a distinguished career, having made such films as S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, Land of the Wandering Souls and Rice People.

More information:
(Cross-published at Rotten Tomatoes)

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