In the past 5 years, Cambodian films have reached a new height, hit international cinemas, and attracted a great deal of attention from international audiences. Cambodian directors and producers are on the move to set a new stage for Cambodia talents to shine and show the world that it is certainly very possible to find talented crews with technical expertise, actors, and actresses to band together for these films.
When in Phnom Penh put together a list of ten Cambodian contemporary movies. If you think that we miss mentioning any cool movie, please feel free to shoot us an email via wheninphnompenh[gmail].com.
1. Diamond Island by Davy Chou (2016)
Diamond Island is a symbol of Cambodia’s future, a sprawling, ultra-modern paradise for the rich on the river in Phnom Penh. Like many other country boys, Bora, 18, is lured from his village to work on the construction project of this property developers’ dream. There, he forges new friendships and is even reunited with his charismatic elder brother Solei, who disappeared five years ago. Solei introduces Bora to the exciting world of Cambodia’s privileged urban youth, with its girls, its nightlife and its illusions.
2. Poppy goes to Hollywood by Sok Visal (2016)
Poppy Goes to Hollywood is the first genuine LGBT-themed feature and an enjoyable comedy from Cambodia. A comic drama about a homophobic straight guy who hides out with transgender entertainers after witnessing a murder. “Poppy” is rough around the edges and has a few gags that misfire, but its good humor and nicely judged doses of heartache will be enough for many viewers to look past the shortcomings and be swept along by its abundant charms. Director Sok Visal’s recut of the 2016 version that was well received locally is worth the attention of more viewers that look to enjoy a pleasant surprise from Cambodia.
3. Jailbreak by Jimmy Henderson (2017)
Jailbreak is a Cambodian action film. This genre-busting film was very well received, and one of the first commercial Cambodia films that benefited from intensive marketing campaigns and viral techniques. Many film critics mentioned that the success of the movie in Cambodia and other countries was also because of the showcase of Cambodia’s traditional martial art of Bokator unleashing its bone crunching fury in this action-packed tale of police trapped in the midst of a raging prison riot.
4. A River Changes Course by Kalyanee Mam (2013)
This is a documentary by Kalyanee Mam. The filmmaker follows three young Cambodians as they struggle to overcome environmental and economic adversary. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 21, 2013 and won the Grand Jury Prize for World Documentary. It also received the Golden Gate Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 2013 San Francisco International Film Festival.
5. The Missing Picture by Rithy Panh (2013)
This documentary is about a child who held on to life in Cambodia’s killing fields. On April 17, 1975, the day the Khmer Rouge seized the capital, Phnom Penh, the 13-year-old Rithy Panh, his family and millions others were driven from the city and other towns and villages and straight into hell. Four years later, many of his relatives, including his father, mother, sisters and a niece and nephew were dead. Many years later, Mr. Panh, now a filmmaker, has told his story in a movie in which the act of remembrance serves as a form of resistance. It received a top award at Cannes Film Festival in 2013, and went on to win awards at other international film festivals.
6. Mind Cage by Amit Dubey (2016)
Mind Cage is a psychological thriller movie about a psychiatrist struggling to defeat superstition and old beliefs when a disgraced traditional healer threatens to tear his world apart. As Indian director Amit Dubey explores horror, agony, and anguish in the movie, he made sure to show to the audience the film was in fact shot at the White Building which once hosted a community of Khmer artists and was recently torn down by a developer to build upscale condominium. The Mind Cage which features an all-Khmer cast was shot on a budget of about $120,000 raised from investors, family and friends and aims to introduce Cambodian audiences to the thriller genre without featuring the omnipresent ghost villains of the Kingdom’s cinema.
7. The Witch by Huy Yaleng (2017)
The witch or Thmob is a Khmer movie based on a folk tale about a sorceress in the past century. It is filled with tales of black magic where the witch casts spells to either make people sick or kill them. The plot is centred around a tycoon, called Raj, his wife named Tep Leak who is pregnant, and their two children. The period is based in the Longvek era. Longvek was a city in ancient Cambodia, and the capital city of the country after the sacking of Angkor by the Siamese in 1431. The Raj family live in harmony until one fateful day when the tycoon gets waylaid by bandits and is badly injured. After that, one calamity after another befalls the family. The director has ways to keep you on your seat’s edge for 80 minutes.
8. Love 2 the Power of 4 by Sothea Ines & Deependra Gauchan (2017)
Putting young romance on the big screen, the co-directors want to display the complexity and nature of love in Cambodia while displaying the dating habits of Cambodians. The film follows the entangled life of four couples trying to navigate through the strong current and social barriers. The co-directors also have inserted a recognizable amount of same-sex love.
9. Turn Left Turn Right by Douglas Seok (2016)
“Turn Left Turn Right” is a feature film that’s part-road trip, part-personal discovery, which refusesto be told with a customary storyline. American director Douglas Seok started thinking of it as a concept album with stand-alone tracks that formed a whole when combined. This very Cambodian tale starring Tith Kanitha—a Cambodian artist and film actress in her first leading role—unfolds at the slow pace often used in homegrown movies and television dramas, but it’s presented in a way that international audiences can understand.
10. Dream Land by Steve Chen (2015)
Lida, a career-driven woman in her late 20s in the developing metropolis of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, sells modern and upscale real estate developments to the growing middle and upper class in contemporary Cambodia. Lida may be thriving as a top real estate agent, but in her personal life, her relationship with her photographer boyfriend is deteriorating. Unable to escape the trauma and prison of her interior monologue, she travels to the quiet beach town of Kep, Cambodia, with her close companions. While the growth and modernization of the city promote an urban and cultural erasure, Kep reveals treasures from Cambodia’s heritage. It is there that Lida discovers that the specters from the past haunt in sublime and beautiful ways.