MY VIEW ON CAMBODIAN FILM INDUSTRY
When you are speaking about Cambodian film industry, there are numerous topics -and subtopics- to discuss about this. Cambodia used to have one huge film industry, had its influenced over the nearby neighbor countries such as Thailand, and was about to become one of the biggest film industry of the continent assuming that there was no interception from long and continually civil war from the 1970s and 1980s. After this black period, Cambodian film industry development, or preferred “7th Art” (Cambodian language), has been ceased and nearly fully disappear. In present day, it is recognized as the return of this “7th Art” and is expected to make surprising inspirations for its audiences who have been waiting for almost 20 years. But some say it will not, as for the term of quality and trend, because they believe the film-maker produce them without any elemental features as well as quality. Why would they say so? Why are there such things to discuss about Cambodian film industry? Why there are many comments on this 7th Art, both negative and positive?
This essay will looks deep into every fields of Cambodian movies production such as the history, the quality and the process of making a movie. This essay will also present comments from selected people and from my own point of views.
I. An brief introduction to film
What is film?
Film is a motion picture, a result of the projection of many captured images on the role of film, to create an illusion of motion. Film, also known as movies or sometimes cinema, is one form of entertainment or one of the latest inventions for entertainment. Film can be for excitement, education, documentary display and sometimes for instruction. There are kinds of film and they are feature films, animated films, documentaries, experimental films, industrial films, and educational films etc. The movies which are presented in the theatre are feature films.
II. History of Cambodian film industry
1. Before 1979
Noticeably, after regaining freedom from French colonies in 1953, King Norodom Sihanouk has led Cambodia into a new era. Development in all areas were introduced and started, and Cambodia began its own industry section with full of confidence. One of the many industries, film industry was one of the main thing the head of state care of, because, even King Norodom Shihanouk, leader of Cambodia at that time, also one good movie producer, director and actor. Thus, this field of entertainment is widely and strongly enjoyed by its people and also rumbling the region. Thai people for example, love watching Cambodian movies and films at that time, like the way Cambodia people like to watch Thai movies and films lately.
When war first came in 1960s and 1970s, Cambodia society is slowly and gradually damaged and people are highly affected by the great effects of civil wars. At the time when Cambodia fell into the hand of Khmer Rouge, that also the time when the 7th Art temporarily vanished with no sign of salvation.
Followed by the 7th January 1979, the film industry was not eventually regain its previous strength and stayed silent for another short period. Cambodian society re-develops from an empty hand, so does this industry. After peace is partly restored and the order in the society is controlled, film business re-starts its account. Little were produced at that moment, until the release of “Kon Pos-Ken-Kong (Child of the great snake)” in 2000, the movie in which Khmer stars acted with Thai star, became the first ever acknowledgeable 36mm-film made after Khmer Rouge regime. It was quite success, since it was brought to Thailand and other countries, and later, the 7th Art revive itself from the deep of people hearts who were looking forward for another bright moment for its industry. But our movies were overshadowed by our neighbor, Thailand. Around that moment, most Khmer channel only present Thai movies, dramas, and films. Not many Khmer’s 7th Art were introduced to those channel.
2 Recent development of Cambodian film industry (after 1979)
In 2003, a significant tragedy happened, marked a full return of Khmer film industry. In January of that year, there were outrageous protestors expressed their anger to one Thai famous film star and led to a cruel attack and burn-down of Thai embassy in Phnom Penh. After this event, every channels of Cambodian official broadcasting system stop showing Thai movies. In replacement, those channels start viewing old (1960’s and 1990’s) Khmer dramas as well as movies on television, and also include newly made series.
Year 2004, the year experiences the booming of Khmer movies in the market place, as well as the re-establishment of some major theatres in Phnom Penh city. Many movies were produced and people spent their time and money for them. One famous masterpiece is the movie “The mother’s heart” by Lady Poun Phoung Bopha, the movies which rocks the city with its meaningful aspect of the mother who always care and take care of her 5 children well-being. She is now the series producer of CTN, she always make movies for the channel but also she makes some for other production. Fei SomAng’s “Tum Tev” (One all-time famous Khmer novel about a true love of a monk and a beautiful young lady) maybe the best movies of the year because there were more than 200,000 audiences.
Year 2005, a greater year of the outburst of film production companies establishments. Many films were made and released into theatres in Phnom Penh. There were many noticeable masterpieces such as the HIV/AIDS education tv-dramas “the taste of life” (which describes about the life of some undergraduate medical students and the dangerous of HIV/AIDS in Cambodian society). Mao Ar-yuth’s “Crocodile Hunter” (“Nehsat Kroper”, starring by one famous Khmer singer Preap Sovath, about a life of a crocodile hunter), and “Moronak Meada” in English is “Died Mother” (But Moronak Meada is a name of a young girl, whose mother was a first wife to someone but her life was changed after he took a second wife). To appreciate these efforts and to support Cambodian film industry, there was an award for the best movies of the year and also for the actors and actress. The result is:
1. Goes to “Crocodile Hunter”
2. Goes to “Moronak Meada”
3. Goes to “Kata-nhu” (thankfulness)
People really enjoyed this year of film and filming.
Year 2006, there were slightly less produced films than last year. In contrast, there were many accusations and allegations over some creation of the contraversial movies. The movies “Human or Ghost” acted by Vang Sreyno who famous of her sexiness, was accused of over-sexual scenes and naked picture. But the problem was solved right after the second-release. What is more, there are more produced films came out to the theatres and some of them are success such as Fei Som Ang’s “Mon(t) Meayea”. There were some accusations over the making of the movie “Choa Phos Keng Kong (Grandchild of the Great Snake)” which is not welcomed by most intellectual people as they claimed this as a “rude” re-modification of the previous production “The great snake(1960’s)”. They said this movies show disrespect to the previous movies because of its title.
For the year 2007, however, the film producing speed was lower than those previous years. But each movie has more quality in terms of performance and picture. The first movie to be introduced to the cinema is “Neang Macha” (The Mermaid). At this moment, no any significant information about the release of new movies has been published but people really looking forward for them.
III. Current quality
By the Cambodian standard, there have been considerable improvements, but by the international standard, still have many to learn. Some professional film critics acknowledge the improvements of Cambodian film industry but warn of the beginner’s luck. They pointed out that it is an early success so the producer must learn more about the industry and how to further develop its standard. By 2007, Cambodian filmmakers have made numerous products of this kind of entertainments, but not so many were successful due to its low quality. One of the main factors is the picture (graphic), some does not look like a film but a video recording tape. Real movie requires the 35mm film which will provides quality picture for the products. Sound quality is the important feature for movie, yet it is still below expectation. The inclusion of voice-acting procedure (dubbing voice) is traditional for Khmer movies, but this procedure is one-step backward for the overall quality. Only Cambodian film industry has the voice-acting procedure, which is to replace the real voice of the actor by the better voice of others.
2. Story Line
Cambodian movie producer mostly make movies based on the fairy tale stories or old Khmer folks stories. They tend to copy the whole pattern and theme of the story and slight changes have added to modernize (in term of quality) the story. Such as the movie “Tonh Jay” (Bright-mind and intellectual man) is 100% resemble to the story in the student textbook. For new story line, there are some impressed written stories introduced to the audiences and got so many supports such as “Crocodile hunter” and “Mother’s heart”. The effort of the writer is so great that they continue to impress the people by creating new movies. For instance, after the release of the “Mother’s heart”, there were the similar stories from the same writer such as “Father’s heart”, “Teacher’s heart” etc… these new stories received such dignity and respect from the audience.
We can say the writers continue the tradition of writing story. As we have studied in high school, Khmer standard writing story criteria has four stages:
2. Creating Problems
3. Intensify the problems
4. Solve the problems
For the first two criteria, the writers follow these correctly and do well in creativity. But for the last 2 steps, there have slight disappointments and frustrations. Some writers fail to intensify the story so hard that the story line becomes more boring. Just like every ghost movies, the ghost behaviour remains unchanged throughout the movies. The ghosts do not turn to be more dangerous or deadly, the ghosts actually becomes less danger and frighten. For example, the movies “Haunted mansion” by Campro, talks about a ghost who haunted in an abandon mansion, at the beginning, the ghost was really scary and always killed someone who stayed in that mansion in the night. But as the story draws near to the ending, the ghost sometimes allows people to leave the mansion save and sound without hurting them.
3. Duration of the producing phase
We can not always say that “The longer the better” for producing a film. Sometimes a film can be produced with a high quality within short timing. But, it is true that “The shorter the lower” for Cambodian movies’ quality. For the standard of producing a movie, 1-month or 2-month time will be a ridiculous one. How can a single movie produced in such a short time mentioned above? The standard one should be six months over (as the process of producing movie shall be taken seriously and carefully). That will ensure the spectators that the movies have been carefully supervised in each section and more times means more creativity. Thus, quality of the movie depends on the durations of producing it. The movie “Crocodile Hunter” came out as a success because it had been filmed for several months. It gained reputations throughout Cambodia and was brought to show in many other provinces and abroad as well. But for some 1-month time produced movies, they were not highly supported by people. The movies were made in rush, most parts are done with reckless exceptions and careless allowances. Apparently, the movies look like they have been finalized but in fact, many unchecked mistakes are still remains and included.
4. Features to the movie
Such as trailers, posters, promotion etc… all of these are getting annoying. For marketing, trailer (movie advertisement) is a key to attract audience, to lurk them to cinema. If your trailer is attractive (effective), the movies will have a good sale of cinema tickets. But, if not, the audience would not even bother visit the schedule. As notice, Cambodian’s movies trailer is not quite strong to convince their audience that they should come and see with their own eyes. They show parts of unnecessary scenes and throughout the trailer, the audience can not understand well what the movie “says”. The same things for poster and other things.
Mostly actors in the movies are popular singer, model and people who do not really have a acceptable qualification for acting in movies. For instance, actress like Sok SreyNeang and Sok Pisey is not actually a natural actor, but they were invited to star in the movies separately. As a result, their movies are not well-supported because, even if they are two famous female singers (because of their voice and beauty), they are not the real actor. Thus, the characters problems also affect the overall quality of the film.
Theme songs, Original Soundtrack, graphic design, special effects and artwork are still below standard. But they are showing improvements through more additional work and cooperation with the foreign specialist.
Recently, many productions shut down their company because of great loss of profit and unsuccessful filming. This can be converted to be a great evidence for this essay, even be a strong one. Only a few stand still, they are Hang Meas, Fei Sam Ang’s and some other more. Also, it is noticeable that, some NGO also organizing filming for promoting their goal projects such as PSI for AIDS (there are movies about AIDS). For instance, the group of people who produced “taste of life”, who once work for the PSI, now establish themselves as “Khmer Mekong Production”. They are introducing some kind of revolution on dubbing-voice criteria in Khmer films, and they have already successfully got their movies onto cinema.
IV. Words on the street on various issues
This essay includes comments from many forums of discussion. Remarkably, most people believes that it is just a matter of time when Cambodian film industry becomes one of the fascinating entertainment in the region. When asking about their opinions about current progress of this industry, one reply with an optimism that “it is better than nothing” (AEROFORCE1 from AsiaFinest Forum(henceforth a.k.a AF)). Yes, for Khmer people, even they acknowledge the low quality of the films, but people still want to watch the movies because they believe that if they continue supporting this industry, one day it will grows up. Sbeechan also insists that “they are trying.” Hopefully, their efforts come with great results.
People also defense the progress and stance of Khmer film industry, saying that the lacks of funds and facilities are the main reasons. Of course, considering Cambodia one of the developing country, we have little knowledge about worldwide standard of filming. Additionally, after the period of civil wars, people survived empty hands and most infra-structure was destroyed. We also were stepping backward. Thus, the quality of film is under-rated. Dorant points out that, the company lacks modern equipment and facility and there is not many institution for acting and filming in Cambodia, so mostly, film-makers are not qualified but accepted by the producer. Raksmey of 5 steps forum give supportive comments that for Khmer company, the average spending of approximately $20,000 is reasonable for producing a movie. And considering this budget, they can not go further than expected.
One more important issue is the controversy of the similarity between Khmer and Thai movies and stories. For example, the Thai horror film “Neang Nat”, which talks about a girl who died while giving birth to her child, is also filmed by Cambodian company. Moreover, these two movies have things in common and both claims their rightful ownership of the real story. But no clear evidence show which is the one.
One the other side, AF members also show concerns on Fei Sam Ang issues. Some members accuse that he is abusing Khmer culture, by making Khmer film similar to Thai’s, in costume, in acting behavior and other areas. SuperKhmer (AF member) says that for his (Fei Sam Ang) standard, it is not suited for Cambodian female people and consider this as offensive. And some members even say he is showing male nudity. These seemingly are harsh words but implying culture awareness, reasonable for officials or authorities to re-estimate his filming protocol.
On the issue of story-line and voice dubbing (or voice acting), there are many contrasting point of views. Some people believe that, by Khmer standard, the voice acting procedure is acceptable. But members of 5 steps forums oppose this by insisting that both the voice acting and story line result in no emotional feeling toward the movies. Raksmey says that in Hollywood, actors do not have good voice, but they still use their natural one for the movies and the quality of the film is still world class. Rachada blames that most of the actors/actress are models or freshie, she told not to expect too much from them, since they do not have professional acting background.
Last of all, there is also an accusation of plagiarism. Some movies are the copy from foreign films (mostly Thai’s and Chinese’s). To reinforce this, Kimlong says that “ The authors just bring those movies from abroad and then translate it to Khmer language, even the film styles or activities are exactly the same.” And most AF members convince that Fei Sam Ang is the prime reason of today’s copycat-like filming society of Cambodia movie industry. Lemongrass suggests that he is just a copy cat.
In conclusion, we are building up to nothing at the moment. Many filming companies in Cambodia announced bankruptcy due to lacks of support and severe loss in every movie production they managed. Consequently, the competition only remains for a bigger companies, which can bring quality movies for the people. In 2007, some cinemas also halted their business as a result of decreasing number of movies for screening and tickets sold. Thus, it is cleared that the film industry is facing another drop and if there is not such firm measure taken place to aid the situation, we will encounter another period of silence. As for notice, and for acknowledgement, WE DO NOT WANT OUR FILM INDUSTRY TO FALL. Please, re-consider every possible options to change to flow of film competition in Cambodia.
Charlie Samsokrith, a.k.a Denith