Cinema of Cambodia
Cinema in Cambodia began in the 1950s, and many films were being screened in theaters throughout the country by the 1960s, which are regarded as the “golden age”. After a decline during the Khmer Rouge regime, competition from video and television has meant that the Cambodian film industry is relatively small today.
The early years
As early as the 1920s, documentary films were shot in Cambodia by foreign filmmakers. By the 1930s, King Norodom Sihanouk had a desire for films and dreamed of stardom before he was chosen to be King by the French, this gave the King second thoughts about his dream to become an actor or director, but he kept this thought in mind.The first Cambodian-made films were made in the 1950s by filmmakers who had studied overseas. They included Roeum Sophon, Ieu Pannakar and Sun Bun Ly. The United States Information Service held training workshops during this era and provided equipment as well. One film from this time was Dan Prean Lbas Prich, or Footprints of the Hunter, made by off-duty Cambodian military personnel using American equipment and containing footage of Cambodian hill tribes.
Sun Bun Ly’s first film was Kar Pear Prumjarei Srei Durakut (Protect Virginity). He also established the first private production company, Ponleu Neak Poan Kampuchea. His success inspired others, such as Ly Bun Yim, to try their hand.
The golden age
In the 1960s, several production companies were started and more movie theaters were built throughout the country. This was the “golden age” of Cambodian cinema, and more than 300 movies were made during the era.
Movie tickets were relatively affordable and Cambodian-made movies were widely popular in Cambodia among all classes. Movie-lovers favored traditional-legendary Cambodian movies. At the time about two-thirds of the films released were “boran,” legendary films. This kept the audience entertained and the culture alive.
During the Golden Age, not all the films were just released in locally but internationally as well. During the 1970s, Cambodia films were well received internationally. . Pos Keng Kang (The Snake King’s Wife), a Khmer Horror period, was a big hit in Thailand while Crocodile Man from 1974, was screened in Hong Kong successfully. The Success of aboard releasing opened the way for Khmer films to seen in Foreign Cinema such as Puthisean Neang Kong rey and The Snake Girl. The trend also built up a good relationship with oversea countries for film businesses in Cambodia.
The star of Pos Keng Kang, actress Dy Saveth, escaped Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge rule and has returned to act in films and teach at Royal University of Phnom Penh. A leading man of the era was action star Chea Yuthon alongside his wife, Saom Vansodany also a famous actress of the sixties and seventies. Their survivor, son Thorn Tharith, made an autobiographical drama, Chheam Anatha (The Blood of An Orphan), about the family’s struggles during the Khmer Rouge time. Kong Sam Oeurn and Van Vanak are other famous leading actors of the era and are also believed to have perished under the communist regime.
King-Father Norodom Sihanouk (then a prince) also made films, which he wrote, directed and produced himself. They were mostly romantic melodramas with an underlying social message. A cinema fan since his student days in Saigon in the 1930s, he made his first feature Apsara released on August 8, 1966 and made eight other films during the next three years, serving as producer, director, writer, composer and star. His other films during this period include Ombre Sur Angkor (1967), Rose de Bokor, Crepuscule (Twilight) (1969) and Joie de vivre.
The communist era
In the years leading up to the takeover by the Khmer Rouge, refugees crowded the cities and movie-going remained extremely popular. Among the films at this time were the love-triangle melodrama On srey On and The Time to Cry. Both films featured the music of popular Cambodian singer Sinn Sisamouth.
The industry’s decline began in late 1974, with the fall of Phnom Penh to the Khmer Rouge imminent. After the Khmer Rouge takeover, the cities were emptied out, and audiences for film shrank. However, the Khmer Rouge itself made some propaganda films to screen at collective meetings, and diplomatic visits were also recorded on film.
With the invasion of Cambodia by Vietnam, the fall of the Khmer Rouge and the installation of the Vietnam-backed People’s Republic of Kampuchea government (see History of Cambodia (1979-present)), movie houses in Phnom Penh were re-opened. However, there was no domestic film industry because many of the filmmakers and actors from the 1960s and 1970s had been killed by the Khmer Rouge or had fled the country. Negatives and prints of many films were destroyed, stolen, or missing. Many of the films that did survive are in a poor state of quality as there has been no effort of preservation.
Cinema in Cambodia at this time consisted of films from Vietnam, the Soviet Union, East European socialist countries and Hindi movies from India; films from other nations, such as Hong Kong action cinema, were banned. Audiences soon tired of the socialist realism and class struggle depicted in the films.
Cambodia’s film industry began a slow comeback starting with Konm Eak Madia Arb (or Krasue Mom), a horror movie based on Khmer folklore which has the distinction of being the first movie made in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge era. Cambodian production companies began to re-emerge and tread the fine line of making films that would entertain people without incurring the wrath of the government. Films from this period include Chet Chorng Cham (Reminding the Mind) and Norouk Pramboun Chaon (Nine Levels of Hell) and told stories about the miseries endured under the Khmer Rouge or lives that flourished under the Vietnam-backed regime. Soon, there were more than 200 production companies, making films that competed for screenings at 30 cinemas in Phnom Penh.
From 1990 to 1994, hundreds of local Cambodian movies were released within each year. The most amount of films released at the time were all filmed in 1993, during the time of the UNTAC.However it all ended in 1994 due to the governments demand over Cambodian movies being incomparable to foreign films. Thus, most Cambodian production turned to karaoke in 1995 and by 1996, HD quality cameras were widely available in Cambodia unlike the early 90s.Since the early 1990s, the local industry has started a slow comeback.
One sign of progress is the career of French-trained director Rithy Panh, who escaped Cambodia after seeing his family die under the Khmer Rouge regime. His films focus on the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge, and include the docudrama, Rice People (1994), which was in competition at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival, and was submitted to the 67th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film, the first time a Cambodian film had been submitted for an Oscar.
His other films include the 2000 documentary, The Land of the Wandering Souls, chronicling the hardships of workers digging a cross-country trench for Cambodia’s first fiber-optic cable; the critically acclaimed 2003 documentary S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine, about the Tuol Sleng prison; and the 2005 drama, The Burnt Theatre, about a theatre troupe that inhabits the burned-out remains of Phnom Pehn’s Suramet National Theatre, which caught fire in 1994 but has never been rebuilt.
Panh has many other projects planned, the chief of which has been developing Bophana, the Audio Visual Center – Cambodia, with an aim towards preserving the country’s film, photographic and audio history.
In 2001 Fai Sam Ang directed Kon pous keng kang (The Snake King’s Child), a remake of a classic 1960s Cambodian film. Though it was a Thai co-production, starring Thai leading man Winai Kraibutr, it was recognized as the first Cambodian film to be released since before the Khmer Rouge era. At the time, Phnom Penh did not yet have any viable commercial cinemas, so the film was screened at the French Cultural Center in Phnom Penh and in outdoor screenings, as well as in a wide commercial release in Thailand cinemas.
The 2003 Phnom Penh riots, prompted by a newspaper article that falsely quoted Thai actress Suvanant Kongying saying that Cambodia had stolen Angkor, resulted in a ban on all Thai films and television programs. To fill the large gap in programming, a resurgence in Cambodian film and TV production began in earnest.
A national film festival was held in November 2005. Many of the films shown were locally made low-budget horror films, such as Lady Vampire, which depicts the krasue, a ghostly flying female head with internal organs dangling beneath it and Ghost Banana Tree which were the hit horror films since the new growing up of khmer film industry. The best movie trophy went to The Crocodile, a tale of the heroism of a man who killed the beast responsible for the deaths of several people in his village. It starred Cambodian pop singer Preap Sovath and veteran actress Dy Saveth as well as The Second prize was received by a legendary Khmer Drama Fantasy film, Moranak Meada and an inspiring true life drama Gratefulness received the third prize in the celebration. The award winning film mostly the big hit.
Several films companies and productions, rewake with starting their job of film producing. The Lead Film Campanys eventually reminds of Angkorwat production after The hit Thriller film, The Weird Villa, also FCI production with their work on Pra Kow Pra Koe and Lady Vampire or Golden Temple Entertainment of Their most successful, Romance Horror, Min Maya and The Snake King’s Grandchild which both directed by Khmer famous director, Fai Sam Ang.
Khmer Mekong Films, a production company started by Matthew Robinson, a former executive producer of the UK’s top-rated drama EastEnders, and former head of drama for BBC Wales, aims to raise the standards both editorially and technically of the Cambodian film industry. The company released its first full-length feature Staying Single When in March 2007 in Cambodian cinemas. The romantic comedy about a young man trying to find a wife in Cambodia.
Camerado SE Asia , one of the more consistently innovative media companies in Cambodia, began operations in 2005. In 2007, Camerado launched Cambodia’s first independent film festival, CamboFest,, and continues to produce long and short form work in the region. Although a private sector entity, Camerado insists on training and hiring Khmer staff for key positions even without an agency or donor mandate to do so.
The creation of the Cambodia Film Commission in 2009 by the ministry of Culture and Fine Arts offers new possibilities for filmmakers to explore Cambodia’s numerous astonishing locations. The large scale productions that have been set in Cambodia (City of Ghosts, Two Brothers, Tomb Raider, the Seawall) proves the Kingdom’s capacity to host international productions.
In Mid of 2011, Phnom Penh started to see a major change in the cinema scene. Two major malls opened up cinema outlets offering International films in English and with Khmer sub-titles. The Citymall now has “The Legend” cinema with both 3D and 2D English film offering. The Sorya mall’s “The Cineplex” offers the same.
Foreign films made in Cambodia
Cambodia’s Angkor Wat was the location for the filming of 1965’s Lord Jim, starring Peter O’Toole, but it was not until the early 21st century that foreign filmmakers made their return to the country.
The best-known depiction of Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge years, 1984’s The Killing Fields, starring the Cambodian actor Haing S. Ngor as journalist Dith Pran, was actually made in neighboring Thailand.
Since the reopening of Cambodia to international tourism, high-profile directors such as Oliver Stone and Steven Spielberg have scouted Cambodia for locations. The 2001 action blockbuster, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider was shot on location around Angkor, and its star, Angelina Jolie became so enamored with the country that she adopted a Cambodian boy named Maddox and lived there for a time. Other films shot on location around Angkor include Wong Kar-wai‘s In the Mood for Love (which also includes film footage of the 1966 visit of Charles de Gaulle to Phnom Penh) and Two Brothers by Jean-Jacques Annaud in 2003. Matt Dillon‘s 2002 drama, City of Ghosts, was filmed in many locations around the country, including Phnom Penh and the Bokor Hill Station.
Since 2009, the Cambodia Film Commission has set-up a training program to allow foreign productions to work with a local crew familiar with international standards. Cambodia has also cinema equipment available since 2009 which allows foreign productions to rent professional gear within the country. Cambodia can today provide foreign productions with highly skilled professionals for set construction, wardrobe, grips and lighting.
Remaking film of the foreign version
As well as The waking of Khmer film industry which led The Cambodia production and Director to produced more films again. Since 2003, The appearance of Gratefulness which seem the cloning of Thai’s 1980 Walli, started echoing The Khmer Director to produce the remake film especially remaking the Thai film. Until now, those remakes are Neang Neath, the remake of Nang Nak as well as The Forest or Neang Pomiry and many more.
Horror genre increasing
In The recent of years at the new development of films, The Khmer producer brought a new taste for movie with the horror genre but within low budget and weak special effect. In addition, The genres revealed a big hit for the local audiences especially for the young age started attracting for khmer horror movies after the absent for long times. The manager of FCI Productions, which made Nieng Arp, a big hit khmer horror film, Korm Chanthy said We make movies to suit the domestic market and the demand of our youths and They like to watch horror movies because they make them feel excited, thrilled and terrified. Meanwhile, Producer, 29-year-old Heng Tola, was looking to diversify his computer business when he founded Campro three years ago with several friends.
Making a movie takes Campro about three months and costs an average of US$30,000, including about US$1,000 for the lead actor, he said.
Despite the current taste for horror movies, Heng Tola believes a more serious trend is emerging, prompted in part by the resentment many Cambodians feel about its colonial past and toward domineering neighbors such as Thailand and Vietnam.
Just like the same, The horror films for the new rising, still in The basing of local religions ghost story such as Lady Vampire, which depicts the krasue, a ghostly flying female head with internal organs dangling beneath it and Ghost Banana Tree, an inspiring of the old tradition but mostly no relation with the love story. Between 2004-2006, The Domestic production made around 20 films genrely horror per year. The most producing of the films seem to be FCI Production and Campro Production which their film mainly the famous one.
In addition, At December 5, 2008, Rankopedia website, listed Cambodia on Country that currently creates the scariest Horror movies with ranked number 20th out of 25th as band score 1.57 by 19 votes. Nieng Arp appeared as the top film for Cambodia followed by The Forest, Villa Horror, The Snake King’s Child and finally Secret Well. The Winner goes to Japan caused of its famous horror film, Ringu.
However, In The Third Khmer film festival which held in the late of 2007, banned the Ghost films to celebrate as reason of too much making of Horror movies.
By the end of 2007, the industry faces a challenge as audience numbers began to decline. Once again many theaters have begun closing down along with the disappearing film production companies. At its height between 1965–1975, Cambodia had at least 30 theaters in operation as opposed to the 13 now. Critics have blamed the decline of industry on weak acting and directing along with a poor script and storyline, but poor enforcement of intellectual property in Cambodia also continues to impact the country’s credibility in the local and international media trade.
The amount of films decreased from more than 60 in 2006 to less than ten in 2009. In 2009, most film directors turned to producing short films and television series rather than actual movies as they once have in previous years.
Many locally made films are simple and similar low budget horror and love stories. Many Cambodian’s prefer international films which are better in quality and whose tickets are also usually cheaper when compared to domestic films. Yet many Cambodian’s have expressed a desire to see domestic films if only they were on par with those produced during the industry’s height.
- An Euil Srey An (1972)
- Tep Sodachan (1968)
- Thavory Meas Bong (1960s)
- See Angkor and Die (1993)
- Rice People (1994)
- One Evening After the War (1998)
- The Land of the Wandering Souls (2000)
- The Snake King’s Child (2001)
- S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003)
- Tum Teav (2003)
- The Weird Villa (2004)
- Ghost Banana Tree (2005)
- The Forest (2005)
- The Haunted House (2005)
- The Burnt Theatre (2005)
- The Killing Phone (2006)
- Human Or Ghost (2006)
- Staying Single When (2007)
- Secret Well (2007)
- The Death of water fall (2007)
- Annoyed (2008)
- Two Shadows (2011)
- The Uninvited Ancestors (TBA)
- ^ a b c d e Cambodia Cultural Profile, Visiting Arts and the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of Cambodia.
- ^ a b “Cambodian films are undergoing a rebirth”, Associated Press, January 6, 2006. (Retrieved from Taipei Times website on December 24, 2006.)
- ^ , NEWSGROUP.
- ^ , newsgroup.
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- ^ ភាពយ្តនខែ្មរដែលចំលងពីបរទេស, A Movies and The culture around The World.
- ^ , Taipei Times.
- ^ “Country that currently creates the scariest Horror movies.”. Rankopedia. Retrieved 2008-11-22.
- ^ , Naraths.
- PDF of student magazine “Kon. The Cinema of Cambodia
- CamboFest, Cambodia Film Festival
- Camerado SE Asia
- Cambodia Film Commission
- Bophana: Audio Visual Resource Center – Cambodia
- Films from Cambodia at the Internet Movie Database
- Khmer-language films at the Internet Movie Database
- Cambodia Cultural Profile (Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts/Visiting Arts)
- Asia life.com