Subscribe Search

Search form

Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - New film delves into history and practice of bokator

New film delves into history and practice of bokator

New film delves into history and practice of bokator

Phnom Penh
A DOCUMENTARY film on the ancient Khmer martial art bokator, formally known as labokator, will be screened tonight at the French Cultural Centre (CCF) in Phnom Penh.

The 50-minute film, titled Une Breve Histoire du Boxkator (A Brief History of Bokator), was directed by Daniel Perrier, a French artist and instructor at the School of Fine Arts in Nantes.

Perrier shot footage for the documentary during a previous visit to Phnom Penh, and now he is back for an extended stay to take part in a series of art projects at CCF.

The artist said he became interested in bokator after he met San Kimsean, a coach of the martial art, in August 2008. The more Perrier learned about bokator from the coach, the more intrigued he became.

“When I came to Cambodia I met San Kimsean by chance, and as we talked he told me about labokator,” Perrier said. “I knew about martial arts like kung fu and judo, but now I have learned about labokator. I think it is not only a martial art, but also the art of self-defence with real tactics.”

According to oral tradition, bokator dates back to the ninth century and was used to fight enemies on the battlefield. Legends say the technique was created by Khmer farmers who lived near the forest and had to learn to fight wild animals with weapons and bare hands – thus the various bokator techniques that mimic the movements of animals such as tigers, horses and crocodiles.

As an artist, Perrier was not interested in making a traditional documentary. Though the film does deal briefly with the history of bokator, it mostly focuses on different aspects of the training process. Using long, unedited shots of students learning basic movements at the Bokator Academy of Phnom Penh, the director allows the viewer to meditate on both the beauty and the rigour of the sport.

“I wanted to document an old Khmer practice, but I also wanted to show how they can re-create information when there are so few teachers,” he said.

“Labokator originated in the ninth century … but under the Pol Pot regime most of the next generation of practitioners were killed. So now there are very few young people involved, and the expert trainers are too old,” he said.

As a result, Perrier said, the coaches have invented a “new process of teaching” in which even intermediate-level practitioners are drafted to teach novices.

“I was really interested by this way of teaching. If they wait for an instructor, an old one with experience, they will be waiting for a long, long time because labokator is a very complex art. The progress is step by step by step,” he said.

Perrier said he made the documentary with very little money, using only a small video camera.

He added that he plans to sell copies of the documentary on DVD for US$25, with $20 going to support bokator students in training and $5 to fund his next video project.

“Next summer I also plan to bring students from France to collaborate with students in Cambodia to learn more about labokator under the sponsorship of the MAC/VAL Museum in Paris,” he said.

Une Breve Histoire du Boxkator will be screened tonight at 7pm at the French Cultural Centre, 218 Street 184, in Khmer with French subtitles.


  • Kak Channthy, Cambodian Space Project frontwoman, killed in crash at 38 [Updated]

    Updated 5:05pm, Tuesday, March 20, 2018 Kak Channthy, frontwoman of popular The Cambodian Space Project, was killed Tuesday morning in a traffic accident in Phnom Penh. She was 38. Channthy, the internationally recognised singer-songwriter also known as “Srey Thy”, was reportedly travelling in a tuk-tuk on the city's

  • Australians protest Asean summit visit by PM Hun Sen

    Hundreds of protesters gathered in Sydney’s Hyde Park on Friday to protest against Cambodian strongman Hun Sen, who claimed to have been gifted millions of dollars by the Australian government ahead of a special Asean summit this weekend. An estimated 300 protesters, the majority of

  • Phnom Penh smothered in smelly, dangerous haze as landfill fire continues burning

    A putrid haze that has bedeviled Phnom Penh since Monday night will likely continue as a landfill in Dangkao district continued to burn on Friday, creating health risks for the capital's residents. Workers at the Dangkao landfill on site on Friday attributed the fire, which

  • Australian police investigating death threat against Kem Ley's widow

    Australian authorities on Thursday confirmed they have launched an investigation into a crudely written death threat sent to the family of slain political analyst Kem Ley and Victoria state MP Hong Lim. The typed letter, reported to Victoria Police last week, appears to be written