Film From Cambodia’s ‘Golden Age’ of Cinema To Be Viewed

‘Chhoeng Day Ov Puk’ revolves around a knife that gives its owner eternal life

Cambodian cinema aficionados will have the opportunity this Sat­urday to see the thriller “Chhoeng Day Ov Puk,” which was released by the Van Chann Pheap Yun studio in 1971, and is one of the few remaining films from the country’s pre-1975 movie industry.

The film, which revolves around the possession of a knife that gives its owner eternal life, was directed by So Man Chhiv—the most prolific film director of the 1960s and 1970s—and features three of the era’s top movie stars, who still are well known today: Kong Sam Oeun, Vichara Dany and Kim No­va, said Vathana Huy, a Cam­bodian movie expert.

“The film was one of Van Chann Pheap Yun studio’s best movies,” Mr Huy wrote in an e-mail.

Based on Mr Huy’s inventory of more than 300 movies produced between 1960 and 1975, he estimated that the Van Chann studio produced the largest number of films released in Cambodia at that time.

“One can state without being off the mark that at least 40 movies were produced by Van Chann during the golden age of Khmer cinema,” he wrote from France.

Among the 12 large studios and eight or so smaller ones operating in Cambodia at that time, the Van Chann studio was the only one to have three, full-time film directors on staff—So Man Chhiv, Lay Nguon Heng and Tat Sam Nang—in addition to other occasional directors.

In three decades of research on pre-war cinema, Mr Huy has been able to locate copies of only 31 movies out of around 340 made prior to 1975. Copies of 18 others could be in the hands of private collectors who are hesitant to release them, but this remains to be confirmed, he said.

Of the Vann Chann studio’s output, he has been able to find just four films including “Chhoeng Day Ov Puk,” which will be shown at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center on Phnom Penh’s Street 200, and will run 80 minutes al­though the original print was 120 minutes.

Gaetan Crespel who is responsible for collecting audiovisual ar­chives for the Bophana center, said two major factors have contributed to the fact there are so few pre-1975 movies still in existence.

“The first factor is the fact that authors, productions companies, actors-in other words all the professionals or people involved in cinema in Cambodia prior to 1975-attest that they lost their possessions and, in the case of movies, masters—35 mm negatives—or the few positive prints there were,” Mr Crespel said.

Secondly, Cambodia’s hot and humid climate, temperature chan­ges from day to night and from dry to rainy season also probably ruined numerous film rolls, he said.

“Because of the Cambodian tropical climate, films and other items were undoubtedly destroyed due to bad conservation conditions.”

Van Chann’s daughter Chou Settha and grandson Davy Chou will be in attendance at the Sat­urday afternoon screening.

Born in the mid-1920s in a modest family, Mr Chann released his first film around the early 1960s, said Chou Settha, his daughter.

Mrs Settha featured in two of her father’s movies as a child, one of them a drama shot in the mid-1960s about a poor widow struggling to feed and educate her children.

“I was about 9 years old at the time,” she said. “I remember having to say a long text that I had a hard time memorizing. So my old­er sister hid behind an armchair to prompt me.”

“Our father involved us [children] in everything he did,” Mrs Settha said. “We lived in multi-story apartment and the ground floor was his office. When he was meeting with directors or actors, we were often there as they were more or less part of the family. And we often went on film shoots,” she said.

In 1969, Mr Chann disappeared and was never heard of again, Mrs Settha said.

Mrs Settha’s mother continued to run the studio after her father’s disappearance and remained in Cambodia during the Pol Pot re­gime only to die shortly after its defeat in 1979, she said.

 

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