Cambodia’s film industry was thriving during the country’s Golden Age of the 1950s and 60s. However, with the Khmer Rouge targeting artists during their rule from 1975 to 1979, many of the Kingdom’s famed screen stars perished. Here are some of Cambodia’s 10 most legendary actors.
Born in 1944, Dy Daveth is one of Cambodia’s most treasured actresses and one of a handful to have survived the horrors of the Khmer Rouge – escaping to France with her husband before moving to Hong Kong. In 1959, she was crowned the country’s first Miss Cambodia, going on to star in a string of Cambodian films. These include the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s Twilight (1969), Bopha Angkor (1972) and Snake Girl (1974). In 1993, she returned to her homeland to relaunch her acting career. In 2011, she appeared in the documentary Golden Slumbers by Cambodian-French filmmaker Davy Chou. And in 2014, she put on a compelling performance as traumatised mother and former actress Sothea in award-winning The Last Reel.
King Norodom Sihanouk
The much-revered late King of Cambodia, who reigned between 1941 and 1955 and 1993 to 2004, was an avid lover of the arts, producing 50 films in his life. King Sihanouk also directed and penned the scripts for many, as well as starring in several himself. His first film featuring himself was The Enchanted Forest in 1967, which went on to receive a nomination at the 5th Moscow International Film Festival. The next year, he launched the Phnom Penh International Film Festival. It ran for two years, with a special category created – Golden Apsara Prize. King Sihanouk was the only nominee and winner for both years. Make of that what you will.
Haing S. Ngor
This accidental actor was born in 1940 and went on to serve as a doctor and medical officer with the Cambodian army. During the Khmer Rouge period, he was captured and only stayed alive by hiding his identity. In 1980, he was sent to America as a refugee and, although he had no previous acting experience, was cast as Dith Pran in The Killing Fields (1984), scooping up an Academy Award for his efforts. 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 robbery. Many claim this was revenge against the outspoken humanitarian from the Khmer Rouge, who were still operational in Cambodia at that time.
Saom Vansodany is one of many Cambodian actors who had their lives cut short by the brutal Khmer Rouge. She starred in a string of movies from the late 1960s until 1975, when the Pol Pot-led regime took over. Her most famous films are Thavory Meas Bong and Sovannahong. She wed fellow actor Thorn Tharith before the country plunged into communist rule and is believed to have died due to overwork under the regime, which wiped out almost half of the country’s population during its four-year rule.
Stepping into the shoes of the main character in Puthisean Neang Kong Rey in 1967 – which remains to date Cambodia’s biggest film to be made – propelled Virak Dara into the spotlight. She starred in a total of 11 films – all directed by her husband Ly Bun Yim, whom she divorced in 1986 – with her most famous being playing Orn in the 1971 smash hit, An Euil Srey An. During the Khmer Rouge, Dara and her husband managed to flee the country and seek refuge in France. Today, the actress lives between France and the US.
Kong Som Eun
As king of the film industry from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, Kong Som Eun was a household name across Cambodia during his peak. In fact, it was difficult to escape the face of the movie star, with him featuring in more than half of films released in the country each year between 1967 and 1975. In a decade, he racked up a portfolio of more than 120 films – although his most famous is Chompa Toung (1974). Again, his career was cut short by the Khmer Rouge takeover.
As an all-round entertainer, Tep Rindaro is famous for his acting and singing skills. Proving to be a natural, he landed the lead role in Secret Tear in the Quiet Purple Night in 1987, despite no formal training. As an instant hit on screen, the producers snapped him up to feature in late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s Peasants in Distress (1994) and The Snake King’s Child (2001). He continues to work on the local film scene and has co-starred with Dy Saveth in several productions.
Keo Pich Pisey
Born in 1982, this actress burst onto the screen in 2002 when she appeared in Domnok Cheam Chong Krouy. However, it was her role as Nary Chan in TV series Taste of Life, from 2004 to 2006, that she is most famous for, because Cambodians just love their soap operas. As well as featuring in karaoke DVDs – another Cambodian love – her face has starred in a string of other films, making her one of the country’s modern-day movie stars.
Sveng Socheata has become something of an international star, after taking on the painful role of Loung Ung’s mother in Angelina Jolie’s Netflix hit, First They Killed My Father, which was released in September. The 38-year-old actress also stars in Amit Dubey’s 2016 Mind Cage, a psychological thriller in which she plays the tormented wife of a psychiatrist. Socheata’s fame looks set to rise throughout 2018, with her acting in horror film Hex, which is set to be released later this year.
Born in 1986 into a wealthy artistic family, Danh Monica was able to pursue her dream of becoming an actress from a young age. And in true entertainment style, she added dance and opera to her skills, learning from her mother from the ages of seven to 16. At the age of 14, she made her acting debut starring in The Snake King’s Child alongside Tep Rindaro in 2001. Throughout that decade, she featured in a series of films alongside Keo Pich Pisey, while also carrying out concerts across France, China and America. In 2008, she became one of the country’s first soap stars, featuring in Klen Pka 3 Po.