Moviegoers in Phnom Penh are seeing double.
That’s because over the past three weeks, movie theaters in the capital have been showing two versions of the film “Tum Teav,” based on one of the most renowned love stories in Cambodian history.
The first, produced by Socheat Salapheap Bouth Productions, is playing at five locations in the city: The Lux, Takhmau, Kampol Pech, Bokor and Chenla cinemas. Meanwhile, a second version, produced by Pos Meas Productions, is showing at Kirirom theater. Both films share the same title.
The simultaneous release of the two films is coincidental, the filmmakers said. The government has no restrictions over the replication of Cambodia’s historical stories.
But, they said, they don’t care that their movies are competing with each other. They said they hope their work will spark national and international interest in the “Tum Teav” story and in Khmer culture.
Since the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots, filmmakers have been trying to boost Khmer films to counter the flood of Thai and other foreign movies that has spilled across the border, said Kong Socheat, 28, a popular television commentator and owner of Socheat Salapheap Bouth Productions.
“For more than 10 years, Cambodians were poisoned with foreign movies and foreign [television] series,” she said. “Our purpose is to strengthen our culture because the Khmer movie industry was temporarily collapsed.”
She said, however, Socheat Salapheap Bouth’s production of “Tum Teav” was edited in Bangkok because Cambodia lacks sufficient technology to edit 35 mm films.
Set in the Loveak period between 1515 and 1618, the two films follow the tragic love story of Tum, a handsome young monk, and a beautiful girl named Tiev.
In the SSB production, Tum is played by 21-year-old actor Souk Sophea, while Tiev is played by 17-year-old actress Danh Monika. The roles are played by actor Souann Makara and actress Srei Touch Chamnan in the Pos Meas version.
Tum is famous throughout the country for his ability to recite Buddhist scriptures. Because of his talent, he is invited by Tiev’s mother to recite during Tiev’s Chol Mlup celebration.
Chol Mlup, translated as “enter the shadow,” is a rite of passage for young girls, practiced during the Loveak period, to prepare them for marriage. For the three to six month duration of Chol Mlup, girls were forbidden to leave their rooms while visitors came to teach them the rules of conduct for women, including housewifery, how to take care of children and how to weave and cook.
When Tum arrives at Tiev’s door, he immediately falls in love with her. He is so taken by her beauty, he returns to the pagoda and asks the chief monk for permission to leave the monkhood.
Tum then steals back to Tiev’s house and woos her while her mother is away. The couple agrees to keep their love a secret until they can marry.
As time passes, Tum is hired as a palace official to recite scripture for King Ramea Choeng Prey. Meanwhile, Tiev is chosen to become the King’s servant because of her famous beauty. The two profess their love for each other to the King and he agrees to marry them.
Tiev’s mother, however, disapproves of her daughter marrying a poor monk and arranges for her to marry the son of a wealthy provincial chief instead.
Tiev’s mother and the chief scheme to lure the girl away from the palace and force her to marry the chief’s son.
Distraught, Tum tries to stop the wedding but is killed by the chief’s soldiers and left under a banyan tree. Tiev and her faithful servant rush to find him and upon discovering his dead body, the two young women commit suicide.
Tiev’s mother, the chief, his son and others involved in the young lovers’ demise are punished to death.
Although the story is well known and taught in high schools throughout the country, ticket sales for both films have been strong, the filmmakers said.
“It’s my first time to see Tum Tiev movies,” said university student Chin Sokuntheary, after watching the SSB production. “I used to read and see Tum Tiev through Khmer literature study and karaoke.”
She added she was surprised by the quality of the movie since it was produced locally.
Kouch Hary, a 35-year-old government official, said that’s the kind of reaction he hopes to see from viewers.
In the first two weeks, the SSB production of “Tum Tiev” received 300,000 viewers, grossing roughly $400,000, Kong Socheat said.
The Pos Meas version has received some 100,000 viewers, said Kheng Kim Srun, the production company’s spokesman, topping about $150,000 in proceeds.
Fay Sam Ang, director of the SSB production, said people are flocking to see the movie, in part, because the story portrays how two lovers dared to stand up against all obstacles for each other. It also shows the class dynamics in society during the Loveak period, he said
To maximize the authenticity of the movies, both productions were filmed in Cambodia. The SSB version was filmed in Pou Cheung Khal commune in Kompong Cham province’s Tbong Khmum district, where the Tum Tiev story was historically set. It took more than eight months to produce.
The Pos Meas production was filmed in various parts of the country.
Fay Sam Ang said the SSB version will be shown at a film competition in India in November. He said Cambodian films based on Khmer history stand the best chance against international competition because the country lacks strong contemporary stories.
“Only Khmer history movies can challenge other foreign movies,” he said.