Zombies have finally arrived to Cambodia, thanks to a local filmmaker on a shoe-string budget. Run, which the director said is the Kingdom’s first zombie flick, features all the hallmarks of the genre in the style of 28 Days Later or The Walking Dead. Rather than London or Atlanta, however, it is the Cambodian capital’s turn to be overrun with a zombie virus.
“We wanted to make Phnom Penh an apocalypse,” director Touch Oudom, who made the film on a budget of $10,000, said. He added that filmmakers wanted to steer away from ghost stories, which dominate the Cambodian film industry.
The plot will be familiar to any fan of Run’s Western counterparts. A team of Cambodia-based scientists attempt to test a new virus vaccine on a human patient, only to have the test subject maul the lab staff. Meanwhile, a group of university students must fight for their lives after their late-night party is interrupted by the “infected”. Local landmarks serve as a background to the zombie apocalypse: a TV news team gets slaughtered outside Naga Clinic while the cast parties at Gasolina restaurant.
The zombies’ characteristics follow international norms: they are deformed, incommunicable, and hungry for raw flesh. Once exposed to the zombie virus, which is transmissible via bites, the victim has about 20 minutes before they turn. Although not technically dead, explained Uodom, the infected can only be killed through destruction of the brain or heart.
“It’s not actually a zombie,” Oudom, a purist who believes that only a reanimated corpse meets the zombie classification, said. “They are just infected and become uncontrollable. But in Cambodia, we don’t know how to say it in a different way.”
The budget was low even by Cambodian standards. Costs were cut by using an all-volunteer cast and crew which was recruited through a tuk-tuk ad campaign. Although the use of volunteers saved money, the lack of experience presented problems. Getting people to wear zombie makeup was difficult, said Uodom, because amateur actors were afraid of looking ugly on camera. Crewmembers had to be trained on set.
“I had to take them through every scene on the set,” Oudom, a first-time director with previous experience as a sound engineer and cameraman, said. “Some people didn’t know how to use the camera, some people didn’t know how to use the light, and some people didn’t know how to make the sound.”
Vathanak Seth, 28, was among the volunteers who underwent baptism by fire. Despite no previous experience in film, he served as scriptwriter, line producer and lead actor. Although acting was a challenge, Seth said he was helped by the fact that he had written the character a year before filming.
“My character developed from [being] very nerdy, very shy, very unconfident to becoming the hero,” Seth, whose character’s name is Chun, said. While he wants to continue work in film, Seth said he preferred working behind the scenes.
By doing away with conventional plot devices based on local notions of ghosts and importing the zombie subgenre from the West, the production creates a striking juxtaposition of Cambodian and Western culture that also highlights common cultural ground.
“In Cambodia, it’s not that different from the Western countries – [survivors] try to fight back, find some food and some shelter, and survive,” Uodom said.
The film, which was produced by Aromfilms and distributed by Westec Media, has also done well at the box office. Koy Socheat, Senior Marketing Executive at Legend Cinema, said that Run sold almost 3,000 tickets in its first five days of showing. It will continue to screen this week with English subtitles at Legend Cinema.