If I were to ask you to think about a famous Khmer film right now, you would think about movies that are related to either the tragic Khmer Rouge area, some poppy cliché ghost story, a remake of some historical stories in the past, or something with a cause like say corruption, or poverty.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love me a good documentary about corruption as much as the next person, but I was always aware of a void for good films that depict the ordinary life of this rapidly changing city.
All this has changed after I’ve seen Diamond Island directed by Davy Chou.
The film follows a young man who leaves his hometown to work as a construction worker in Phnom Penh’s blooming Diamond Island. Bora, the protagonist has these soft, large deep-brown eyes juxtaposing his hard rigid jaws and bold lips. In a way, Bora’s features describe his story perfectly. He was a shy, awkward kid without too many friends who would subsequently prove himself to be daring, wanting to get a taste of everything even when he’s scared.
Now, if this was a cliché pity-inducing film, one would expect to see the poverty, oppression and helplessness in the life of a construction worker, but this was not one of them. By fate, Bora chances a meeting with his brother who’s left home years ago, probably in search for his dream in the booming city. The brother introduced Bora to the life of middle-class Cambodian teens with their big bikes, and their café lounging hobbies (cough cough).
Furthermore, the story of Bora’s life unfolds beautifully on screen with great camera work, jump cuts and color scheme (gave me such an artgasm). Seriously, the director himself said details were a priority and that’s definitely shown through the film. The most noticeable one is the clash between colors in the footage with a lot of warm takes in Bora’s construction life, and cool colored takes in Bora’s life with the middle-class kids. And symbols. There are symbols everywhere from the motorbike that Bora’s ridden on, to the bridge that connects Diamond Island to the rest of Phnom Penh.
Now, if you are a nerd like me who lovvvves good symbols and certain aesthetic tastes, you would definitely enjoy the film (and come on! You’re reading a freaking blog for god’s sake. Of course, you are a nerd), go watch it! It will be released on the 27th of October in several cinemas in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
Bonus: a tomboy (transgender) character whose storyline is not about his sexuality. Seriously, he was just there, playing games on his iPad and being normal. And that’s how LGBTQ people should be portrayed on films sometimes, you know, just living out their normal days, like the rest of the people do.
Bonus bonus: the actors and actresses in this movie are not hot-shot celebs. Literally, the main actor is a taxi driver, and the main actress is unemployed. The cast was chosen to portray the real beauty of Cambodia, not those made-up, Chinese wanna-be’s (not that there’s anything wrong with them, but they do not adequately represent the diversity of beauty of Khmer people). We’ve got a set of mostly dark-skinned cast which I think is healthy for the people of Cambodia. I mean, media has played a huge role in the (literal) white-washing of the Khmer beauty standards. This film is a fresh breadth of air with its raw, Khmer faces.
Now though the movie is sort of slow-paced and confusing (bordering on psychedelic at times), I would recommend EVERYONE to go watch it. I do not guarantee that you are going to find it good, but this is a leap from the traditional films! We always lament the lack of good original arts including films in the country, well, here is one. Why not give it a shot? The creative industry in Cambodia, just like Bora, is hard but soft, possessing a lot of potential, yet so unsure, so fragile. And to be involved in it whether as a critic or a supporter is to play a part in reviving, or more like, sculpting the future of art fields in the country. What are you waiting for? Go book the tickets now!