Khmer Romance on Screen

Yesterday, Sophy and I went to Sorya Mall, a modern shopping complex with multiple floors that is trying to catch up with the rest of the world. It’s one of the few places with escalators and elevators.

We took the escalator up to the food section because the elevator was too crowded. There was a line waiting. At the food court, we have to exchange real money with that of paper tickets of the same value. Whatever you don’t use, you can exchange the same amount back. There, I ordered my favorite rice porridge with fried fish pâté, sprinkled with pepper, hot chili pepper sauce and shredded ginger. Sophy got a nice smoothie fruit shake with his order of fried chicken and rice. We sat at a table surrounded by teenagers in stylish outfits talking and laughing, simply enjoying themselves and their carefree lives. Sophy noticed how beautiful some of the girls were, but they were all very young, even though he’s only 26 himself. After we had eaten, we went to a sporting goods department store, where Sophy purchased a very pricey pair of shoes by Timberland. It was the only store that accepted credit card. Sophy was complaining earlier about his debt, but that didn’t keep him from paying over a hundred dollars for a pair of his favorite brand.

“The shoes are waterproof,”he told me.

“You want to see a movie?” I asked.

Sophy agreed. We headed upstairs, to the top floor, where there’s a Sorya Cine Complex. We couldn’t read Khmer so we didn’t know what the title of the movie was, but there was a picture of a handsome man with a beautiful girl holding each other. It looked romantic. “You want to see that one?”

“Well, it’s the one playing at 4 PM,” said Sophy. Movies here are shown throughout various theaters at 9, 2, 4, and 7. You have to catch it at one of those hours.

The ticket for the two of us was priced at three dollars, a dollar and fifty a piece. What a deal! We had to wait about twenty minutes before we could enter. The previous show has not ended.

Finally, we entered. I had to check in my helmet. My bag had to be searched in case I had hidden a gun. Inside the theater, a woman with a flashlight showed us the way to our seat. We couldn’t just sit anywhere, even though half the movie theater was empty. We sat by these obnoxious teenagers who talked loud on their cellphones.

On the screen was an obnoxiously loud karaoke with bad static sound. After the music video, came the commercial. The Nokia one was shown almost five times repeatedly.

The movie begins with a sex worker telling one of her male clients her tragic life, how she had to become a prostitute. First, her father felt ill and died. Her mother and her little brother followed.  The younger brother was involved in a traffic accident, where he was hit by a car. The flashback showes the little boy covered with blood as his sister, the woman telling the story, screamed for help.  Another flashback, as she tells her other clients, is of her mother in her hospital bed trying to get her last words to her daughter, and then gone in a flash, dead and pale. The daughter cries without tears. The actress couldn’t cry so they made a cut by putting water drops on her cheek. We could tell all the technical flaws even though we weren’t movie directors. There were just too many flaws.

We could tell how the story would end by the first few minutes of viewing. The patagonist, played by a handsome Cambodian man, is supposed to be a famous pop singer in the story. He is having this recurring dream about this girl he has never met. He is shown kissing and hugging the pillow thinking that it was the cheek of the girl in his dream. In the dream, he is marrying her, getting her ready for their after wedding love making in a banana feeding ritual, that looks as if they are sucking a penis.

The female protagonist, the sex worker, was forced by all these tragic events into prostitution because she had accumulated 10,000 dollar debt over the span of trying to save her father, mother and brother. All the men who come to see her fall in love with her because she is very beautiful. They would make all these promises to her, but they all fail to deliver them. One guy wants to rescue her by wanting to marry her. Another wants to pay off her debt, but after she told him how much she owes, he takes off running.

There are several other sex workers. They live with this female pimp, who is very nice to them, so nice that it doesn’t seem very realistic. The pimp acts as the girls’ agent. She is shown constantly negotiating over her cellphone and sending the girls to meet these men.

Meanwhile, the popular singer, who can’t lip synch, is struggling with his mother, who is the wicked witch of the east, trying to arrange a love affairs between her son and this daughter of a wealthy family. This other woman she wants for her son loves someone else, and she doesn’t want to follow her mother bewitching advice about marrying this popular singer.

But by chance, the singer goes to Sihanoukville with his buddies. There, he runs into the girl in his dream. He falls madly in love with her, but the sex worker is telling him that she isn’t good enough for him, that he must be crazy to want a prostitute for a wife. In Cambodia, it’s not heard of that a man would want to marry someone who is not a virgin. But love conquers all. The man convinces her that he truly loves her so he takes her into the house to be introduced to his mother. The mother, however, wants to test her first by making her do house chores like a servant.

The guy feels bad, but the girl tells that it’s necessary for her to endure the hardship for his love. One night they are together outside. The guy is serenading her, but it doesn’t look like he knows how to play the guitar, sing or act.  His lips aren’t in synch with the song, and the romance is awkward and uncomfortable. It had entered my mind that he would have been more natural with a man instead.

Neverthless, there is romance, Khmer styled, in a badly acted production that wasn’t worth the wait to see how it ends.

Sophy and I walked out, while the few who remained were glued to the screen while talking on their cellphone.

It was time to shop again for clothes too big for my size. I bought, however, a pair of sunglasses, and performed a dance for the young vendor, who giggled like a silly little girl.


Explore posts in the same categories: Journal from Cambodia

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