Cambodian cinema has a rich history dating back to the 1950s, although it was nearly destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979. Since then, the industry has slowly been rebuilding, and in recent years, a new generation of filmmakers has emerged, producing critically acclaimed films that have been recognized on the international stage.
Some of the best Cambodian movies explore the country’s history and culture, while others tackle contemporary issues facing Cambodian society. From powerful dramas to heartwarming comedies, Cambodian cinema offers a diverse range of films that are sure to entertain and enlighten audiences.
Best Cambodian Movies
In this article, we will highlight some of the most notable Cambodian films that have garnered critical acclaim and captured the hearts of audiences around the world.
1. The Killing Fields (1984)
“The Killing Fields” is a historical drama film released in 1984, directed by Roland Joffé and starring Sam Waterston and Haing S. Ngor. The film is based on the true story of New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and his interpreter Dith Pran, who were in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power and the subsequent genocide that occurred.
The film depicts the friendship between Schanberg and Pran, as well as the brutal events that took place during the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. The film also explores the horrors of the Killing Fields, the name given to the mass graves where victims of the Khmer Rouge were buried.
“The Killing Fields” received critical acclaim upon its release and was nominated for seven Academy Awards, winning three, including Best Supporting Actor for Haing S. Ngor’s performance as Dith Pran. The film is considered a powerful and important depiction of the Cambodian genocide and the impact it had on the people of Cambodia.
- Sam Waterston, Haing S. Ngor, John Malkovich (Actors)
- Roland Joff (Director) - Bruce Robinson (Writer)
- English (Subtitle)
- Audience Rating: R (Restricted)
2. Holy Lola (2004)
“Holy Lola” is a French drama film directed by Bertrand Tavernier and released in 2004. The film follows the journey of a French couple, Pierre and Geraldine, who travel to Cambodia to adopt a child. Along the way, they navigate the complex and often frustrating process of adoption, while also confronting the harsh realities of poverty, corruption, and exploitation in Cambodia.
The film was praised for its realistic portrayal of the adoption process and the nuanced portrayal of the cultural differences between the French couple and the Cambodian people. It was also noted for its sensitive treatment of the difficult subject matter and the exceptional performances by its cast, particularly Isabelle Carré and Jacques Gamblin as the lead couple.
“Holy Lola” received generally positive reviews from critics and was selected for the Cannes Film Festival in 2004. It was also nominated for several awards, including the César Award for Best Supporting Actress for Marthe Keller’s performance.
- Sampiero, Dominique (Author)
- French (Publication Language)
- 432 Pages - 10/20/2004 (Publication Date) - GRASSET (Publisher)
3. S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003)
S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine is a 2003 documentary film directed by Rithy Panh that explores the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia during the late 1970s. The film is named after S-21, a former school in Phnom Penh that was used as a prison and torture center by the Khmer Rouge.
Through interviews with former guards, survivors, and family members of victims, as well as archival footage and reenactments, the film provides a harrowing account of the brutality and dehumanization that occurred at S-21 and other Khmer Rouge prisons. It also delves into the psychological effects of the trauma experienced by those who survived the regime, as well as the ongoing struggles of Cambodian society to come to terms with the legacy of the Khmer Rouge.
S21 has been praised for its powerful and unflinching portrayal of the Khmer Rouge regime’s atrocities, as well as its sensitive treatment of the survivors and their stories. The film has won numerous awards, including the Grand Prize at the 2003 Cinéma du Réel documentary film festival in Paris.
- Factory sealed DVD
- Houy Him, Mak Thim, Ta Him (Actors)
- Rithy Panh (Director)
- English (Subtitle)
- English (Publication Language)
4. Enemies of the People (2009)
“Enemies of the People” is a documentary film directed by Rob Lemkin and Thet Sambath, released in 2009. The film explores the Cambodian genocide that occurred during the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975 to 1979.
The documentary follows the journey of Thet Sambath, a Cambodian journalist, as he seeks to uncover the truth about the genocide and the people responsible for it. He conducts a series of interviews with Nuon Chea, the Khmer Rouge’s chief ideologist, and other former Khmer Rouge leaders who were responsible for the deaths of over 1.7 million Cambodians.
Through these interviews, Sambath attempts to understand how and why the genocide happened, and the motivations of the Khmer Rouge leaders. The film also features interviews with survivors of the genocide, who recount their experiences and the impact it had on their lives.
“Enemies of the People” provides a powerful and intimate look at one of the darkest periods in human history, and the lasting impact it has had on the people of Cambodia. It has been widely acclaimed for its honesty and depth, and has won numerous awards, including the Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.
- Pol Pot, Nuon Chea, Thet Sambath (Actors)
- Thet Sambath (Director)
- English, French, German, Italian, Japanese (Subtitles)
- English (Publication Language)
5. L’empire du tigre (2005– )
“L’Empire du Tigre” est une série documentaire française créée en 2005. Elle est centrée sur la nature, la faune et la flore de l’Asie, en mettant l’accent sur les tigres, considérés comme une espèce emblématique de la région.
La série suit les aventures de différents personnages qui explorent les territoires asiatiques à la recherche de tigres sauvages et d’autres animaux fascinants. Les épisodes présentent également des images spectaculaires de paysages naturels, ainsi que des interviews avec des experts en écologie et en conservation.
“L’Empire du Tigre” est une série à la fois divertissante et éducative, qui vise à sensibiliser le public à la conservation de la nature et à la protection des espèces en danger. Elle a été diffusée sur plusieurs chaînes de télévision françaises, notamment France 5.
6. City of Ghosts (2002)
“City of Ghosts” is a 2002 American film directed by and starring Matt Dillon. The movie is set in Cambodia and follows the story of Jimmy (Dillon), a New York con artist who travels to Cambodia to find his mentor Marvin (James Caan) after a botched scam.
Once in Cambodia, Jimmy finds himself immersed in a dangerous world of crime and corruption, as he tries to unravel the truth about Marvin’s disappearance. Along the way, he meets a Cambodian woman named Sok (Sereyvuth Kem), who becomes his guide through the streets of Phnom Penh.
“City of Ghosts” is notable for its depiction of Cambodia’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and the way it captures the city’s post-war atmosphere. The film also features a strong cast of Cambodian actors, including Kem, who gives a standout performance as Sok.
Despite its critical acclaim, “City of Ghosts” was a box office failure, grossing only $325,000 against its $17 million budget. However, it remains an important film for its portrayal of Cambodia and its people, and for its exploration of themes such as identity, redemption, and cultural clash.
- Multiple Formats, Anamorphic, Closed-captioned
- English (Subtitled), Spanish (Subtitled), French (Subtitled)
7. Two Brothers (2004)
“Two Brothers” is a family adventure drama film released in 2004, directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Guy Pearce, Jean-Claude Dreyfus, and two live tigers named Kumal and Sangha. The film is set in French Indochina during the early 20th century and tells the story of two tiger cubs who are separated when they are captured by hunters.
One of the cubs, named Sangha, is sold to a circus while the other, named Kumal, is taken in by a wealthy family as a pet. As they grow up in vastly different environments, the two brothers begin to forget each other. However, fate brings them back together when they both end up in the hands of the same hunter.
The film features stunning cinematography of the lush jungles and landscapes of Indochina, as well as impressive performances from the two tigers who were trained to act alongside human actors. “Two Brothers” is a heartwarming and exciting adventure story that explores themes of family, brotherhood, and the relationship between humans and animals.
The film received generally positive reviews from critics and was praised for its visuals and the performances of the two tigers.
- Guy Pearce, Freddie Highmore, Jean-Claude Dreyfus (Actors)
- Jean-Jacques Annaud (Director) - Alain Godard (Writer) - Ben Spector (Producer)
- Audience Rating: PG (Parental Guidance Suggested)
8. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)
“Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” is an action-adventure film released in 2001, based on the popular video game series “Tomb Raider.” The film was directed by Simon West and starred Angelina Jolie as the titular character, Lara Croft.
The film follows Lara as she embarks on a mission to find the “Triangle of Light,” an ancient artifact that has the power to control time. Along the way, she must battle a secret society known as the Illuminati, who seek to use the artifact for their own gain.
Despite mixed reviews from critics, “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider” was a commercial success, grossing over $274 million worldwide. Jolie’s performance as Lara Croft was praised, and the film’s action sequences and special effects were also well-received. The success of the film led to a sequel, “Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life,” which was released in 2003.
- Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig (Actors)
- English (Subtitle)
- Audience Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
9. Same Same But Different (2009)
Same Same But Different is a 2009 German film directed by Detlev Buck, based on the true story of a German journalist and his Cambodian girlfriend. The film follows the relationship between the young couple, Ben and Sreykeo, as they navigate cultural differences and the challenges of a long-distance relationship.
After meeting in a bar in Phnom Penh, Ben and Sreykeo fall in love and begin a passionate romance. However, when Sreykeo becomes ill and is diagnosed with HIV, their relationship is tested even further. Ben must confront his own prejudices and fears about the disease, as well as the social stigma and discrimination faced by HIV-positive individuals in Cambodia.
The film was praised for its honest and nuanced portrayal of the complex issues surrounding HIV/AIDS in Cambodia, as well as its sensitive handling of the love story between the two protagonists. It won the Audience Award and the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the 2009 Montreal World Film Festival.
Overall, Same Same But Different is a thought-provoking and emotionally resonant film that explores themes of love, loss, and the human condition.
- German (Publication Language)
10. The Sea Wall (2008)
“The Sea Wall” is a 2008 film directed by Rithy Panh, based on the novel of the same name by Marguerite Duras. The film is set in French Indochina during the 1930s and follows the story of a French widow named Anne-Marie Stretter, who is living in a remote outpost along the Mekong River.
Anne-Marie is struggling to cope with the isolation and oppressive heat of the outpost, as well as her own feelings of emptiness and despair. She becomes involved in a passionate but doomed affair with a young naval officer, who is stationed at the outpost.
As the relationship between Anne-Marie and the naval officer develops, the Mekong River rises and threatens to flood the outpost. The sea wall, which is meant to protect the outpost from flooding, is in disrepair and may not hold. Anne-Marie and the other residents of the outpost must work together to save their homes and their lives.
“The Sea Wall” is a haunting and evocative film that explores themes of love, loss, and the destructive power of nature. It has been praised for its beautiful cinematography and powerful performances, particularly by Isabelle Huppert in the role of Anne-Marie.
- The Sea Wall ( Un barrage contre le Pacifique )
- The Sea Wall
- Un barrage contre le Pacifique
- Isabelle Huppert, Gaspard Ulliel, Astrid Berges-Frisbey (Actors)
- Rithy Panh (Director) - The Sea Wall ( Un barrage contre le Pacifique ) (Producer)
11. Dogora – Ouvrons les yeux (2004)
“Dogora – Ouvrons les yeux” est un film documentaire français réalisé par Patrice Leconte et sorti en 2004. Ce documentaire est un voyage visuel et musical à travers le Vietnam, mettant en avant la vie quotidienne des gens, leur culture et leur relation avec la nature.
Le film ne suit pas une trame narrative conventionnelle, mais plutôt une succession d’images magnifiques de paysages naturels et de scènes de vie quotidienne des habitants du Vietnam. La bande sonore du film est composée par Etienne Perruchon, qui a créé une musique orchestrale en utilisant des sons et des instruments traditionnels vietnamiens, ainsi que des sons de la nature.
Le film a été salué pour sa beauté visuelle et sa musique envoûtante, qui créent une ambiance onirique et poétique. “Dogora – Ouvrons les yeux” est une célébration de la culture et de la nature du Vietnam, et une invitation à réfléchir sur notre relation avec la planète.
- J B5 Chirashi (7x10)
- Rolled / Not folded
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3 Characteristics of Cambodian Movies
Influence of Khmer Rouge: Many Cambodian movies are influenced by the country’s traumatic history, particularly the brutal regime of the Khmer Rouge. Films often explore themes of war, violence, and trauma, and seek to shed light on the country’s complex and painful past.
Emphasis on traditional culture: Cambodian movies often highlight the country’s rich cultural heritage, including its traditional dances, music, and customs. Many films also feature lush landscapes and scenic locations, showcasing the natural beauty of Cambodia.
Low-budget productions: Cambodian movies are often made on a shoestring budget, with limited resources and equipment. Despite these limitations, many filmmakers have found creative ways to tell compelling stories and create memorable characters, showcasing the resilience and creativity of Cambodia’s film industry.
3 Reasons To Watch Cambodian Movies
Cultural immersion: Cambodian movies offer a glimpse into the country’s culture, traditions, and daily life. You can learn more about the people, their customs, and their way of life by watching movies that depict their stories and experiences.
Unique perspectives: Cambodian movies provide a unique perspective on the world, as they are often made by filmmakers with a different cultural background and artistic vision than those from Western countries. These films can offer new and thought-provoking ways of looking at issues and storytelling.
Developing film industry: Cambodia has a developing film industry, and by watching Cambodian movies, you can support and encourage the growth of this industry. Additionally, you can discover emerging talent and explore different genres and styles of filmmaking. By watching Cambodian movies, you can also help to promote cultural exchange and understanding between Cambodia and other countries.
Best Cambodian Movies – Wrap Up
Cambodian cinema has a rich and varied history that spans several decades, from the golden age of the 1960s to the difficult years of the Khmer Rouge regime and the subsequent period of rebuilding and recovery. Despite the challenges faced by the Cambodian film industry, filmmakers and artists have continued to produce powerful and insightful works that explore a wide range of themes and issues.
Some of the best Cambodian movies include:
The Missing Picture (2013) – directed by Rithy Panh, this documentary film uses clay figurines to recreate the director’s memories of life under the Khmer Rouge.
First They Killed My Father (2017) – directed by Angelina Jolie, this film tells the story of a young girl’s experiences during the Khmer Rouge regime, based on the memoir by Loung Ung.
In the Life of Music (2018) – directed by Caylee So and Sok Visal, this film follows the story of a family of musicians over three generations, exploring the enduring power of music in Cambodian culture.
Diamond Island (2016) – directed by Davy Chou, this coming-of-age film follows the story of a young construction worker in Phnom Penh who dreams of a better life.
The Gate (2014) – directed by Régis Wargnier, this drama film tells the story of a Frenchman who returns to Cambodia to find the daughter he abandoned during the Khmer Rouge regime.
These films are just a small sampling of the rich and diverse range of Cambodian cinema, which continues to evolve and grow in the face of new challenges and opportunities. From documentaries to dramas, from historical epics to contemporary stories, Cambodian cinema offers a powerful and unique perspective on the human experience.