Thai ‘soft power’ claim absurd, filmmakers say

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Pok Borak, director of the Cinema and Cultural Diffusion Department at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts. POK BORAK VIA FB

Well-known Cambodian film producers have reacted to a recent social media post which asked the question: “Will undue Thai influence lead to the end of Cambodian cinema?”

The post appeared in late July, attached to promotions for a new Thai film called Love Destiny 2.

There were several comments by members of the public, who suggested that as younger Cambodians became more and more accustomed to Thai culture, they may forget their own national identities.

The post was shared by several Cambodian filmmakers and attracted many comments and reactions.

Chhay Bora, a writer and film director, said: “Khmer filmmakers are working hard, and suddenly this post appears and seems to be a rebuke. Perhaps it should serve as a wake-up call.”

As the former president of the Cambodian film association, he expressed his concerns, but thought in the end the post would motivate the film industry to move forward.

He said nobody should discriminate against the work of another nation. It was also important to understand that a national identity is dependent on the conscience of each citizen, he added.

Sem Visal, owner of Wonder Film Entertainment Production, acknowledged that some Thai films appear to be outperforming their Cambodian neighbours, but it was worth looking at the demographics they were attracting.

“Look at their viewers. They are only a small part of the film-going public. Most of them are primary schoolchildren. This film is not attracting many older students or full-time working adults,” he said.

He also asked Cambodian viewers to pay close attention to the speech and sense of morality in the films they watched.

“A love for your own culture is about more than words. Do not let your dignity suffer for a minor thrill. Of course, I offer my congratulations to the makers of Love Destiny 2, even though I have not seen the first film in the series,” he added.

LD production director Leak Lyda also shared the post.

“If we don’t stop translating foreign films that feature a similar culture to our own, we will dilute our own unique culture. This will confuse the next generation of Cambodians,” he said.

“The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts should pay closer attention to indirect cultural fraud through film. Our people should also take the time to consider what they are watching and where it was made,” he added.

Pok Borak, director of the ministry’s film department, said the ministry is implementing various strategies to keep local films competitive in a market with an influx of foreign movies.

“In the past, we cooperated with the Ministry of Information and prepared a prime time policy for Cambodian films. This was an important promotion, as it meant all television stations would be showing Cambodian cinema during the ‘golden hours’ when audiences were highest,” he told The Post.

“We also strive to train local filmmakers, both young and old, in order to improve their filmmaking abilities and make them more competitive,” he added.

The Kingdom’s cinemas have been allowed to welcome viewers since November 18, last year, following the easing of Covid-19 restrictions. The department is assisting the nation’s film industry, which was badly hit by the nearly two years of virus-enforced closures.

“What we are doing is exploring ways to establish screen time requirements to benefit the producers of local films,” said Borak.

He thought the social media post was liable to serve to alert young people to remember their roots and embrace their own culture.

“I saw the post, and thought it was trying to suggest that the local industry may be in trouble. I don’t think this is going to happen, because if we look at the market, and the quality movies that we are making here in Cambodia, we are a long way from that point,” he said.

He also stressed that there are many Cambodian films that have received a lot of support from the public, and that some Cambodian filmmakers have successfully taken their movies to be screened in countries such as in Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore.

“Our work is of high enough quality that it can enter the international market – we have seen young film producers win awards on the international stage. There are large geo-social political forces in play of course, but saying the Khmer film industry is about to collapse is absurd,” he concluded.