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Director probes Phnom Penh underbelly

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Darin Ou and Ayrton Orio on the set of the short film The Guest. Photo by: VINCENT MCNEIL

A young traveller seeking a fresh start in Cambodia. A tuk tuk driver and his sister, corrupted by the shady underbelly of Phnom Penh. A chance encounter that changes everything. This is what French director Ayrton Orio plans to capture in his upcoming film Phnom Penh Amok, scheduled to begin production this October.

The movie follows three main characters: a tuk tuk driver who starts dealing drugs on the side; his sister, who finds herself working in a bar of ill repute; and Jonathan, a French tourist who settles in Phnom Penh after a string of failures in his homeland. When Jonathan meets the sister of the tuk tuk driver at a bar, he commits a grave mistake which forces him to go on the run, with the vengeance-fuelled tuk tuk driver hot on his heels.

Orio, 25, describes the project as “an attempt to promote Cambodian cinema.” Barring the Parisian opening sequence, the whole film will be shot in Phnom Penh, and Khmer dialogue will feature heavily, alongside English and French.

The film is being produced by Telenko Prod – a production company and “artists’  collective” that brings together different contacts in the cinema industry. Sylvain Nawrocki, the director of photography for Phnom Penh Amok, is the acting president for the group, which is funded by him and Orio.

The pair have yet to find a distributor for the film in France, but they have secured a budget and are committed to releasing the film on Cambodian screens.

When discussing the genesis of the movie, Orio and Nawrocki are unable to suppress a laugh. “As unlikely as it seems, the movie was born on a road trip between Berlin and Paris, when the temperature was at minus 20 degrees Celsius,” says Nawrocki. “The car broke down and we had nothing to do but talk. How we ended up on the subject of developing a movie to be shot in Cambodia, I have no idea.”

But the project didn’t exactly spring from nowhere. Orio spent some time in Cambodia over a year ago, and has been obsessed with the idea of directing a feature film there ever since.

Over the past few months, Telenko Prod has enlisted Bokator masters to help with fight scenes, professional stuntmen to choreograph a chase sequence, and what Orio believes to be their strongest asset: the cast.

Playing the foreign lead is Guillaume Faure, 32, an up-and-coming French comedian who graduated from the prestigious Parisian acting school Le Cours Florent, and who has appeared in a number of TV shows.

But it is the female lead – 25-year-old Khmer actress Darin Ou – who most excites Orio. “I discovered Cambodia through her eyes,” he said. “She is the reason I wanted to shoot in Cambodia.”

Despite not having a large level of experience in the industry, Darin Ou was offered the lead role in the 2009 German movie Same Same But Different, which received the Variety Grand Piazza Award at the 62nd Locarno International Film Festival in Switzerland.

She declined that role to focus on her young child, but has subsequently collaborated with Orio on the short film Phnom Penh and Around. Darin Ou and Orio are also in the midst of filming another short called The Guest.

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