After his success with Lost Loves, Cambodia’s first entry to the Oscars in almost two decades, trailblazing filmmaker Chhay Bora is making the Kingdom’s first Singaporean-Cambodian co-production – a gritty thriller scheduled for release next summer.
Set against the backdrop of Phnom Penh’s sex trafficking industry, the feature film, called 3.50, is a hopeful story created by Singapore-Cambodia’s first film co-production team, with Cambodia’s Chhay Bora and Singapore’s Eysham Ali co-directing for the first time.
The film, which is being shot in Phnom Penh, tells the story of an American documentary filmmaker, played by Singaporean actress and producer Eunice Olsen, who forages into Cambodia’s underground sex industry to save a girl who was kidnapped from her village and sold into prostitution.
Bora said he was inspired to tackle the topic of human trafficking and child prostitution in 3.50 because, despite high-profile arrests, the public still need to be educated about the severity of the dangers and human rights violations involved in the sex industry. “It is not enough if we do not educate people to understand,” he said.
A former Miss Universe Singapore, Olsen first became aware of Cambodia’s seedy sex industry when she met a sex trade survivor as part of her work as UN’s Goodwill Ambassador in 2005.
She and co-producer Chan Gin Kai approached Bora in August to express an interest in producing a movie in Cambodia.
According to Kai it was important for the team to produce a film that not only told a compelling Southeast Asian story, but could also strengthen Cambodian-Singaporean ties.
During pre-production, the Singapore team conducted open acting and filmmaking workshops to train the Cambodian crew and transfer key skills to them in an effort to enhance the Cambodian film industry.
Cultural differences caused struggles between the directors over decision-making, according to Bora, who added that he had great respect for co-director Ali, as well as Olsen.
"With two different directors from two different countries, we have our own knowledge, [and] sometimes [we] have to struggle to find one decision. But so far we have done well," he said.
Shooting for the film, which began at the end of November, is scheduled to finish before the end of the year.
Filmmakers hope to have 3.50 in cinemas by mid-2013.
It will be the second feature film for Bora, whose first, Lost Loves, became Cambodia's first entry to the Oscars in 18 years in August when the Cambodian Oscars Selection Committee (COSC) unanimously voted to propose it.
The film, a tale of a woman’s hardship during the Khmer Rouge regime, will be Cambodia’s official Oscar entry for Best Foreign Film at the 2013 Academy Awards.
“It was so heartfelt it moves you,” said Mariam Arthur, head of COSC, “It is very emotional. Bora was able to capture the drama of the human emotion.”
Arthur said she hopes that Bora’s works can serve as inspiration for “a new generation of filmmakers to start experimenting and making their own creations,” and further develop the industry in Cambodia.