Along with all of Cambodia’s art forms, the country’s thriving film industry was destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime of 1975 to 1979. However, the sector is once again on the rise, thanks to a series of award-winning films – both international and local – that have hit the big screen in recent years. Here, we throw the spotlight on some of the Kingdom’s classic and emerging stars.
Sveng Socheata is making a name for herself internationally after starring as Loung Ung’s mother in Angelina Jolie’s Netflix hit, First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers, which was released in September. The 38-year-old actress also stars in Amit Dubey’s Mind Cage, a psychological thriller in which she plays the tormented wife of a psychiatrist. It was released in 2016 and is currently on the international film festival circuit. Sveng also features in Hex, a horror movie that is to be released in 2018.
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During the Khmer Rouge Trials, Phoeung acted as the translator for Kaing Guek Eav [commonly known as Comrade Duch, who headed the notorious S-21 prison where an estimated 15,000 people died during the Khmer Rouge]. He was sentenced to life behind bars in 2012. Phoeung made his acting debut in 2014 stepping into the shoes of Duch for French-Cambodian film, The Gate – a semi-fictional dramatisation of the memoir of anthropologist François Bizot, who was captured by the Khmer Rouge in 1971. Phoeung most recently took on the role of Loung Ung’s father in First They Killed My Father.
Rous Mony had a small role in the 2012 release of award-winning Australian produced film, Wish You Were Here, which follows the aftermath of a holiday to the country that has gone very wrong. In 2013, he played the lead of Phirun in Ruin, an arthouse film that tells the story of two young lovers living on the margins of Cambodian society. It scooped the Horizons Award, Special Jury prize at Venice Film Festival that year. He also appears as Scar in Jimmy Henderson’s 2017 action movie, Jailbreak, and put on top performances as the villainous traditional healer Mony in Mind Cage and Veasna in award-winning The Last Reel (2014).
As one of Cambodia’s most beloved actresses from the Golden Age of the 1960s, Dy Saveth is also one of just a handful to escape execution during the Khmer Rouge-era, having fled to France. In 1959, she was crowned Miss Cambodia, and went on to star in a string of movies, including former King Norodom Sihanouk’s Twilight (1969), Bopha Angkor (1972) and Snake Girl (1974). She returned to Cambodia in 1993. She plays traumatised mother and former famous actress Sothea in The Last Reel.
Haing S. Ngor
Born in Cambodia in 1940, Haing served as a doctor and medical officer with the Cambodian army, before being captured by the Khmer Rouge, who he managed to hide his job from to avoid execution. Having survived the Pol Pot-led regime, he was sent to the US in 1980 as a refugee and, despite no acting experience, went on to be cast as Dith Pran in The Killing Fields (1984), winning an Academy Award for his performance. He went on to star in various films, including Oliver Stone’s Heaven & Earth (1993), before being shot dead outside his LA home in February 1996 during a botched robbery.
This Cambodian actor and singer launched his acting career with the starring role in 1987 hit Secret Tear in the Quiet Purple Night. Despite no training or experience, his natural ability in front of the camera caught the eye of producers, who snapped him up for a series of other roles, including featuring in former King Norodom Sihanouk’s Peasants in Distress (1994) and The Snake King’s Child (2001). He has also co-starred with Dy Saveth and remains a revered actor on the local film circuit.
Another national treasure of the 1960s and 70s, Virak Dara made a name for herself in her role as Kong Rey in 1967, with Puthisean Neang Kong Rey – it remains Cambodia’s biggest movie to be made. She is also known for playing Orn in the 1971 smash hit, An Euil Srey An. Three of her films never made it to the screen, having been destroyed by the Khmer Rouge before they were released. She managed to flee Cambodia for France in 1977 with her husband.
Controversial Cambodian actress Denny Kwan made international headlines in April after being slapped with a one-year ban from working in the entertainment industry by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. The young musician and actress had been hauled before a board of officials a year earlier to be “educated” about her sexy style – a warning she refused to heed. She pledged to tone down her dress.
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