Prostitutes Replaced By Producers in Svay Pak

Having lived in Svay Pak for more than 20 years, Dang Ngu­yen Nho was used to the visitors who came to her neighborhood armed with money and looking for sex.

But when the village was flooded almost two weeks ago with dozens of foreigners armed with cameras and microphones to film a Hollywood movie that has stirred up its fair share of controversy, she and others didn’t know what to think.

“The people were nervous the first time they saw the trucks and people,” she said Tuesday, the final day of filming in Svay Pak. “We didn’t know what their plans were.”

Ten days later, many of those same villagers had been filmed playing various roles, had helped crew members set up and move equipment and had been paid for their troubles.

“It absolutely helps the people here,” said fellow villager Nguyen Thi Lien, who has lived in Svay Pak for eight years. Nguyen Thi Lien said she and her children had played various parts and were paid between $5 and $7 per day.

Today, the movie cameras and crew will be on the streets of Phnom Penh, filming in various locations before wrapping up March 2, crew members said. A final day of shooting is planned in Angkor Wat on March 3.

Originally titled “Holly,” the feature film was intended to be one of three pictures to be shot subsequently around the country in a project titled K11, the project’s Web site said.

Svay Pak is also known as K11 because it lies 11 km outside Phnom Penh.

The other two films were to be a full length documentary titled ‘Children for Sale’ and a making-of documentary titled ‘The K11 Journey.’

The project itself has been plagued with controversy and challenges, said one highly placed crew member who requested anonymity.

The original script was submitted to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts last year as Cambodian law states, but the ministry requested a number of changes because, as Culture Minister Prince Sisowath Panara Sirivuddh said Tuesday, the script went against the “Khmer culture.”

According to the Web site, ‘Holly’ is about a 12-year-old Vietnamese girl who is sold into sex slavery by her poor family. She is smuggled from Vietnam to Cambodia and set to work as a child prostitute in Svay Pak.

Holly encounters an artifact looter played by US actor Ron Livingston who decides to try to get her home. Livingston has appeared in several Hollywood films and productions including Band of Brothers and Office Space.

The script for ‘Holly’, however, both Prince Panara Sirivuddh and the crew member say, was never resubmitted and approval was never technically granted, even though filming started in mid-January and the crew has already been to Battambang and Siem Reap provinces.

“I don’t know why they never resubmitted [the script],” Prince Panara Sirivuddh said Tuesday. “Until now they haven’t gotten authorization, but we have never said ‘no.’”

Since then, the title ‘Holly’ has changed to the tentative working title ‘Red Ribbon’, though the crew member said he doubted that name would stick.

The crew member also said that local Cambodian press had described the film as being a pornographic movie, further damaging the production, and the crew has had to deal with corruption and bribery at various levels.

In addition, US actor Tom Sizemore, who appeared in Saving Private Ryan and Black Hawk Down, reportedly violated a mandatory drug test—a condition of his coming to Cambodia to act in the movie—when he was caught giving a fake urine sample from a tube hidden inside his trousers.

The crew member said Sizemore will learn today, the same day he was to leave for Cambodia, whether he will still be allowed to leave the US.

Holly was written by Guy Jacobson and Guy Moshe, who is also the director. Jacobson is an executive producer and writer for production company Priority Films. The crew member said the project is “low budget” but the actual cost could not be verified.

While the exact details were not available, the Cambodian Television Network is also involved in the project.

Other actors involved include French star Virginie Ledoyan and German film and television star Udo Kier. The crew member said the film crew is composed of 90 people, split almost evenly between Westerners, Thais and Cambodians.

Kith Meng, chairman and CEO of the Royal Group, which owns CTN, said the television company has been “cooperating” with the company for a “long time.”

He said it’s not unusual for film production companies to “go and look for a partner” in another country where filming is to take place. This helps to smooth the transition and get a handle on local issues that could impede or facilitate filming, he said.

Municipal First Deputy Governor Mam Bun Neang said he learned about the film last week after the municipal cabinet received a letter from the Ministry of Interior approving the shooting.

A Ministry of Interior spokesman could not be reached for comment.

A man working at the film site Tuesday who identified himself as being from the Ministry of Interior said 10 police officers, six military police and four soldiers had traveled across the country to provide security.

Many in Svay Pak appeared happy to be included in the production, if only to make some money after the government-ordered crackdown ended the lucrative sex business in their village late last year.

Indicating the abandoned house across the street from her shop, Dang Nguyen Nho said many of her neighbors put their property up for sale and decided to move away when the brothels were closed.

“They could not make any money,” she said.

Other villagers said they were happy with the change.

“In this area before the crackdown, it was very noisy,” Nguyen Thi Lien said.

“After the crackdown, nothing bad happens,” she said.

Mom Phea said having a large number of foreigners in the village wasn’t strange because the residents were used to it from when sex tourists prowled the streets.

“It’s not very different,” she said.

“Some people here are not happy because they think it affects our reputation. But I think the film helps us.”


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