Khmer Movies: The Best in Cambodian Film

Saturday, October 22 by Lee Grayson

Khmer Films In the Shadow of Naga

Khmer movies are films made in Cambodia, typically by Cambodian directors and starring Cambodian actors,  for Cambodian speakers. Khmer films frequently have characters speaking in the native languages of Cambodia and often also add subtitles so the films can be shown in nearby countries. While some Chinese film companies produce Khmer movies, the most popular films in the Cambodian communities and in the country itself are those made totally by the homegrown members of the Khmer film industry. 

"In the Shadow of Naga." Mix pirates, buried treasure and a group of monks and you have the unlikely plot in this Khmer movie. Nasom Penungkasiri directs this 2008 film about the hunt for buried treasure. Criminal elements, posing as monks, attempt to locate the long-lost booty buried decades before beneath the temple. The unlikely chain of events allows the bad guys to infiltrate the monkish doings and dig between the devotions and good works. Intira Jaroenpura and Rathcanoo Boonchuduang star in the action adventure

Khmer Films One Evening After the War

"One Evening After the War." This 1998 release traces families in Cambodia after the civil war ended and the Khmer Rouge was defeated during the 1980s. The main characters, played by Narith Roeum and Chea Lyda Chan, develop a plan to escape from forced working conditions. Many war survivors were sold into work slavery to repay debts. The male character in this Khmer movie teams up with a former soldier to commit robbery to repay her debt and release the character from slavery. The film depicts the horrific human conditions in Cambodia in the 1970s and early 1980s. 

Khmer Films A Perfect Soldier

"A Perfect Soldier." Aki Ra, a former child actor forced to work for the Khmer Rouge government planting land mines to thwart American soldiers, has changed his life since the war ended. Ra founded a history museum devoted to exposing the inhumane war munitions and works to promote the elimination of the land mind as a weapon of war. The film won several awards, including the official selection at the London Media Club and an official selection designation at the Vail Film Festival.  "A Perfect Soldier" was released in 2010.

Khmer High School Love's Story

"High School's Love Story." This film by Kao Seiha, a young Cambodian filmmaker, follows the family drama of a high school student and his family. The family is torn when the mother leaves the children's father after he has been diagnosed as HIV positive. The theme of the 2010 Khmer movie involves the stigma of people living with HIV and AIDS in contemporary Cambodia. Khmer movie stars Keat Sovanna Leang and Chea Vannarith in the principal roles. The main focus is on how the young son deals with the situation and how he tells his girlfriend about the family tragedy.

Khmer Rouge Killing Machine

"S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine." This 2003 documentary directed by Rithy Panh provides the historic background to the creation of the infamous detention center where the Khmer Rouge government tortured and killed citizens. The director interviews former prisoners and guards, teenagers at the time, who were forced to participate or face execution. Photographic images of the death camp show layers of skulls stacked by the thousands on shelves. Death sentences were carried out to kill prisoners who failed to follow directions, supported the enemy or were too old to live through the camp terrors. Khmer movies frequently deal with the terrors of the camps and attempt to shake the nightmare that still haunts the living over the horrors of the Khmer Rouge government. 

- Lee Grayson

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