‘Turn Left Turn Right’ Takes You on a Cambodian Road Trip

“Turn Left Turn Right,” a feature film that’s part-road trip, part-personal discovery, refused to be told with a customary storyline. So American director Douglas Seok started thinking of it as a concept album with stand-alone tracks that formed a whole when combined.

—Film Review—

Presented this week during the Cambodia International Film Festival, it succeeds in telling a story—and a touching one at that—with very little dialogue. Mr. Seok accomplishes this through a series of chapters, each one a mini-episode that takes the story set in Cambodia toward its moving conclusion.

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Tith Kanitha in ‘Turn Left Turn Right’

“Editing is what took a long time,” Mr. Seok said on Saturday. “That’s kind of where I found the film.”

The 68-minute movie starts with Kanitha, a 20-something Cambodian woman, wandering through an Angkorian monument on top of a mountain. The soundtrack plays 1960s Cambodian music, and Kanitha, with her short dress and hairstyle, could very well have come out of that era.

It soon becomes obvious that the music is part of the very personal universe in which Kanitha lives, nearly oblivious of daily-life constraints, a state of mind that gets her fired from two jobs.

As the story unfolds, one realizes that her dreamy attitude may be due to the fact that her father, to whom she is profoundly attached, is dying. Toward the end of the film, she goes to unusual lengths to fulfill a dream of his before he’s gone, perhaps regaining her peace of mind in the process.

“It’s kind of a personal story,” said Mr. Seok, who is now based in Seoul. “My father got sick. So I kind of wanted to use that: It was something really heavy on my mind.”

“Also, I had this idea of making a road-trip film,” the 33-year-old director said. This led him to set scenes in various parts of the country: in and around Phnom Penh, off the coast of Kep, at Bokor National Park and at the millennium-old Phnom Chisor monument in Takeo province.

This very Cambodian tale starring Tith Kanitha—a Cambodian designer and film actress in her first leading role—unfolds at the slow pace often used in homegrown movies and television dramas, but it’s presented in a way that international audiences can understand.

Shot in Khmer and shown with English subtitles, the film took several years to complete, its format evolving in the process, Mr. Seok said. In a nod to its album inspiration, segments are introduced with full-screen “Track 2” or “Track 3” credits.

Premiered in November as an official selection of the Torino Film Festival in Italy, the film is being shown this week for the first time in Cambodia.


What: “Turn Left Turn Right”

When: 5:30 p.m. tonight, Legend City Mall
2 p.m. on Wednesday, Major Cineplex

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