A group of young Thais agree to stay in a Cambodian torture center-turned-museum that was abandoned because it is haunted.
They do so in order to compete for a $125,000 winner’s purse offered by a reality television game show.
In the movie’s trailer, which can be seen on the Internet, the group of attractive young Thais troop through jungle, rather than Phnom Penh’s streets, to reach the abandoned prison. But they find familiar Tuol Sleng images inside, including rows of photos of victims uncannily similar to those shot by Khmer Rouge photographers at S-21.
Though the new Thai horror movie “Ghost Game” gives the prison a different name—Security Prison 11—the film appears to be set in a fictionalized version of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, according to Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia.
“This is disgusting,” Youk Chhang said Tuesday of the movie, which is scheduled for release in Thailand on Thursday.
“It’s a twisting of the history. It’s a twisting of the memories of millions of people,” he said.
Set to a conventional, eerie horror movie soundtrack, the contestants first have torture simulated upon themselves, one being shackled to a chair and blindfolded with a krama.
They encounter increasingly disturbing images as the online trailer develops, including mounds of skulls and emaciated men shackled to metal frame beds.
Pimolthip Yeesontes, director general of Tifa Co, the Thai company that produced the movie, said the movie had nothing to do with the Khmer Rouge, according to a Tuesday report by Agence France-Presse. He added, however, that some viewers might see a link, because Khmer words are used in the movie.
Youk Chhang warned that the film could stoke up negative feelings toward Thailand.
“It could create some friction,” he said. “We should have learned from what happened in the riots,” he added in reference to the anti-Thai riots of January 2003, when a mob burned down the Thai Embassy and a dozen Thai-owned businesses.
“If it’s coming from a professional filmmaker, it is a serious issue that needs to be addressed,” he said.
Surasak Suparat, an official at the Thai Embassy, said he was aware of the film but could not offer any details. “It might be just a story,” he said. “It is difficult to say when I haven’t seen it.”
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said the movie might be acceptable as long as it does not masquerade as a documentary.
“If it is a movie that is just fiction, I don’t see the problem,” he said. “But I’m not in charge of the movies.”
Director Sarawut Wichiensarn, 36, has been a co-director and a cinematographer for other Thai films, but is making his formal directorial debut with “Ghost Game,” according to the online Thai Film Database.
According to an article in the Thai newspaper The Nation, Sarawut Wichiensarn traveled to Cambodia to research the film, but opted to shoot it in Thailand instead.
“There is one particularly sensitive scene where the contestants provoke the spirits by destroying skulls and skeletons,” The Nation reported Tuesday.
Ken Tara, director of the Culture Ministry’s cinema department, said requests to shoot “Ghost Game” in Cambodia were turned down.
“I received the scenario from Thai producers for ‘Ghost Game,’ but I denied their request because their scenario is wrong” and distorts the history of S-21, he said.
Kan Tara also pledged to confiscate any copies of the film found in Cambodia’s markets.
Khun Samen, director of the Culture Ministry’s museum department, which oversees Tuol Sleng, accused Thai filmmakers of irresponsibly damaging Cambodia’s reputation, though he added that he had not seen the movie.
“What happened in our country is our internal matter,” he said. “I wonder why the Thais would make this film. Do the Thais not also suffer? We never allow the production of violent and cruel stories about Thailand and Thai people.”
Loung Nhoung, a former Khmer Rouge soldier living in Pailin municipality, also questioned the film’s legitimacy. “If they were neutral, they would make a film about Thai authorities killing thousands of their own people in their ‘war on drugs,’” he said, referring to Thailand’s violent crackdown on narcotics in 2003.