Cambodian heist comedy lifts the spirits

Leya (Som Maleak) and Sovan (Vandy Piseth).
Leya (Som Maleak) and Sovan (Vandy Piseth). PHOTO SUPPLIED

Cambodian heist comedy lifts the spirits

Sometimes all you need to lift your spirits is a karaoke-singing police chief with a penchant for Elvis suits. Thankfully, director Sok Visal’s first feature film is just the ticket. Gems on the Run (Kroab Pich) premiered at the Cambodian International Film Festival in December and is currently in cinemas.

This heist comedy tells the story of two childhood friends, Rith and Sovan, who are reunited as adults. Over the course of 15 years, their lives have taken very different turns: Rith (played by Cheky Athiporn), the son of Phnom Penh’s police chief, has become a cop himself, though he spends more time dressing in lavish suits and singing along to karaoke than enforcing the law. Meanwhile Sovan (Vandy Piseth), hardened by a childhood in an orphanage and on the streets, is tiring of violent gang life and, when he falls upon three gems worth $3 million, sees it as an opportunity to escape.

Circumstances result in the two friends driving together to Koh Kong, along with Leya (Som Maleak), the girlfriend of another gang member who feels trapped and wants out. Leya has an uncle in Koh Kong who will buy the gems, she says, though they at first tell Rith they’re doctors on the way to treat children.

The three encounter obstacles along the way: police, the gang trying to seize the gems, lack of food in the jungle. They also meet interesting characters, though some may bristle at Leya’s remark that two disabled men “give me the creeps”, and the rather cheap exploitation of their difference for laughs. Luckily, though, in what could perhaps be interpreted as a gesture of tolerance, they turn out to be wholly benevolent, and pop up at the end to help out.

Aside from this awkward episode, the humour is for the most part innocent, inoffensive and charming. It doesn’t push boundaries - most of the laughs come from Rith’s clumsy slapsticks - but it acknowledges bigger issues like corruption, poverty and violence.

At just under two hours, Gems on the Run does drag on a bit, largely due to a prolonged middle section in the jungle when romance starts to blossom between Rith and Leya. To accept this requires a hefty suspension of disbelief, and not just because of the contrast between Som Maleak’s good looks and Rith’s utter ridiculousness: for the first half hour of their meeting, Leya all but refuses to even acknowledge Rith.

However, if you can get past this, it adds a charming touch, especially as Rith, who we are rooting for at this point, is unhappy about an arranged marriage to the ironically-named Pretty, a would-be diva with an interfering mother.

Gems on the Run is, on the whole, a hoot: a lighthearted, feel-good film about friendship and love conquering differences. Parts of it, such as the fact that it takes four days to drive from Phnom Penh to Koh Kong, are ridiculous. But only the most hard-hearted could leave without a grin.

Gems on the Run is at Legend and Platinum Cineplex cinemas. Both offer screenings with English subtitles.

MOST VIEWED

  • US think tank warns of China's 'ulterior motives'

    A US think tank on Tuesday warned that spreading Chinese investment in the Indo-Pacific follows a pattern of leveraging geopolitical influence at the expense of the nations receiving investment, including Cambodia. The report looks at a sample of 15 Chinese port development projects, noting that the

  • More than three tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia seized in Mozambique

    A total of 3.5 tonnes of ivory reportedly bound for Cambodia was seized by authorities in Mozambique late last week, according to the NGO Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). CITES' information was based on a report from the

  • Defence Ministry denies weapons in smuggling case came from Cambodia

    After a Thai national was arrested last week for allegedly smuggling guns from Cambodia to Thailand, Cambodia's Defence Ministry has claimed the weapons seized during the arrest are not used in Cambodia, despite the fact that both types of rifle seized are commonly found in

  • Shipwreck found off coast of Koh Kong

    Royal Cambodian Navy researchers are working to identify a decades-old shipwreck found earlier this month off the coast of Koh Kong province. Divers found the 70-metre-long wreck on April 4 about a mile from Koh Chhlam island, according to Navy officials. Deputy Navy Commander Tea Sokha,