Gov’t Wary of Another Hollywood ‘Raider’

Actor Matt Dillon Scouting for Film; Officials Urge Care

Matt Dillon is back, and he’s walking on eggshells.

The American actor and a crew of 10 headed for Kampot, Kep and the abandoned French hill station of Bokor Monday to scout possible film locations, according to Cambodian film officials.

Nicholas Simon, Dillon’s spokes­man, didn’t want to talk about it. “We’ll talk to you after the first of the year, I promise,” he said. “We’re keeping this very low-key until everything’s settled.”

Ministry of Cul­ture officials said Dil­lon, who has wanted to make a movie in Cambodia for at least two years, has submitted a 112-page script titled “City of Ghosts,” as required by a new law that took effect in September.

Dillon’s team is taking care to obey every conceivable regulation in the wake of the ruckus stirred up by “Tomb Raider,” the big-budget action flick starring Angelina Jolie as video-game archeologist Lara Croft.

“Tomb Raider” shot in late November in Siem Reap, raised a number of concerns, due to the violent story line and the fact that the project was not vetted by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

News that the ultra-violent Croft would be clambering all over Angkor Wat so incensed Unesco officials, in fact, that Monir Bouchenaki, Unesco’s deputy director for culture, fired off a furious letter from Paris.

The letter, addressed to Vann Molyvann, director of the Apsara Authority, noted that Unes­co, which for years has provided money and technical advice on protecting Angkor, had learned about the plans for “Tomb Rai­der” through the newspapers.

“I wish to bring to your attention the violent and warrior-like character of Lara Croft, the heroine of [the Tomb Raider video game], which has little connection with the image of Angkor that Cambodian authorities, the international community and Unesco plan to present to the world,” Bouchenaki wrote.

He further noted that Angkor is an “imperiled” World Heritage site requiring special protection, and that allowing its image to be associated with “Tomb Raider” was inappropriate.

The filming, which took place the last week in No­vember, did not damage the temples, officials said, and no scenes involving violence were filmed there. Para­mount Pictures paid Apsara $10,000 per day to use the sites.

Though “City of Ghosts,” by Dillon and Barry Gifford, includes scenes at the Bayon in Angkor Thom, most of the action occurs elsewhere in Cambodia.

Apsara officials said Monday they have had no discussions with “City of Ghosts” representatives about filming at the Bayon.

Dillon’s draft of the screenplay, “Beneath the Banyan Tree,” has been renamed “City of Ghosts.” It is set in the chaotic Cambodia of 1994, the year Khmer Rouge forces abducted  three Western back­pack­ers off a train and murdered them.

Unlike “Tomb Raider,” which was a fantasy adventure, “City of Ghosts” would be look at a flawed young man’s growing disgust with his life as a predator, and his steps toward redemption.

The movie’s plot involves fraud, murder, treachery, warm-hearted Cambodians, high-ranking military officials that may or may not be corrupt and expatriates that range from idealistic to bottom-feeders.

Muong Sokhan, deputy director of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department at the Ministry of Culture, said Dillon’s crew would meet with ministry officials later this week to discuss exactly where and what kinds of scenes they want to shoot.

He said the new law that re­quires ministry approval of film projects does not say what kinds of projects can or cannot be made, just that “we will carefully review film proposals.”

Unesco’s irritation over “Tomb Raider” has inspired ministry officials to be doubly alert, he said. “I was told we must be careful and strict about filming in Cambodia.”

He said the ministry is likely to frown on shoot-outs or other violent se­quences within the temple complexes.

And while Apsara has authority over the temple complexes, he said the ministry has overall authority across Cambodia.

Although “City of Ghosts” is a far smaller-budget picture, it could end up affecting many more Cambodian lives than “Tomb Raider.”

The 150-person “Tomb Raider” crew of foreigners stayed in a single expensive Siem Reap hotel, flying in much of its food from Thailand, although the film crew did hire more than 100 vehicles and more than 400 local people.

“City of Ghosts,” by contrast, has scenes set in Poipet, Battam­bang, the Dangrek Mountains, Kep, Bokor and numerous locations in Phnom Penh.

On Monday, the crew examined the train station in Kampot and met with provincial officials. They plan to return to Phnom Penh on Saturday.

The 36-year-old Dillon, who has worked in films since 1979’s “Over the Edge,” has earned both critical acclaim and a considerable income in the years since.

His performances have ranged from a junkie in Gus Van Sant’s 1989 “Drugstore Cowboy” to a sleazy con man in “There’s Something About Mary,” a huge comedy hit in 1998.


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