Cambodia has provided the backdrop for a host of Hollywood and film festival favourites. From tropical jungles and pristine countryside to a rich cultural heritage and turbulent history, the Southeast Asian country has all the ingredients to make it worthy of starring in a swathe of must-see films. Here are the best films to watch before taking a trip to Cambodia.
Based on a true story, The Killing Fields follows New York Times journalist Sydney Schanberg and his Cambodian fixer, Dith Pran, who is sent to a working camp under the Khmer Rouge regime. Schanberg makes it his mission to locate Pran and reunite him with his family, who were given refuge in America. Shot in 1984, the film offers a compelling insight into the country’s war-torn history.
Cambodian director and producer Kulikar Sotho’s The Last Reel has snagged a string of awards at international festivals, and it’s easy to see why. This contemporary family drama takes a heartfelt look at the legacy left by the trauma that families suffered under the Khmer Rouge, and the impact it has had on subsequent generations. A story of love, shattered dreams, loss and hope, The Last Reel is a must-see film. (In Khmer with English subtitles.)
This film flung Cambodia into the international limelight, with the tree-riddled temple of Ta Prohm in Siem Reap’s Angkor Archaeological Park forming the backdrop for many scenes. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider also appeared to spark Angelina Jolie’s love affair with Cambodia, which continues today with the actress making frequent visits to the country accompanied by her adopted Cambodian son, Maddox.
Renowned Cambodian film-maker Rithy Panh’s The Missing Picture was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 86th Academy Awards – becoming the first Cambodian movie to make the final cut. Panh was 13 years old when his family was rounded up with other Phnom Penh residents and sent to ‘re-education’ camps. Here, he uses simple clay figures to recreate the atrocities of the Pol Pot regime, interspersed with propaganda material, news and documentary footage.
Directing and stepping into the lead role, Matt Dillon delves into the seedier side of Cambodia, inspired by several visits to the country. Set in Phnom Penh in the early 90s, City of Ghosts is far from award-winning material, but it is intriguing for its real look at the gritty underbelly of the capital back then. It also stars James Caan and Gérard Depardieu, as well as featuring several well-known expat and Khmer faces in cameo roles.
This Australian drama follows four friends whose Cambodian holiday in coastal Sihanoukville takes a dark turn, tracking the after-effects of this on their lives back in Australia. Joel Edgerton leads the cast in this edgy mystery thriller. While possibly not painting the best picture of Cambodia, Wish You Were Here is worth a watch for the beach shots to whet the appetite for the Kingdom’s coast.
French director Jean-Jacques Annaud’s family adventure movie is set in the 1920s in French Colonial Cambodia. Two Brothers features Guy Pearce, although the spotlight is stolen by two tiger brothers, Kumal and Sangha. Separated as cubs, the tigers take two very different paths before being reunited a year later.
An upbeat, musical profile of the LGBT community, Poppy Goes to Hollywood follows jobless ‘loser’ Mony. When he is threatened, Mony asks for help from his brother, a ladyboy at a cabaret club. Hilarity ensues as Mony is forced to flee, dressed in drag, to Hollywood – a club in Preah Vihear. Pioneering for its exploration of LGBT issues, the locally produced comedy has all the ingredients of typical Khmer humour.
This award-winning documentary film follows Cambodian-American Kosal Khiev, who was sent to Cambodia – a country he had never stepped foot in – after being freed from prison in America for gang-related crime. His plight is identical to hundreds of Khmericans exiled in Cambodia. An excellent portrayal of his struggles, Cambodian Son follows Khiev as he finds a new lease of life in spoken word poetry and attempts to find his footing in this foreign land he now calls home.
Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’sLost Rock ‘n’ Roll (2014)
This documentary by John Pirozzi shines the spotlight on Cambodia’s Golden Age, when Phnom Penh was a thriving creative hub. During the 1960s and early 1970s, Cambodian rock ‘n’ roll was booming, the capital was dubbed the “pearl of Asia” and life was good. Then came the Khmer Rouge, who targeted artists as part of their genocidal regime that reigned from 1975 to 1979 – 95 percent of the country’s artists died. Moving and informative.