Producers of the new comedy show Upside Down hope that young viewers will relate to the program’s parody of everyday life in the Cambodia’s capital
The Golden Buffalo 2008, Cambodia’s small-scale equivalent of the Academy Awards, was given out to the best contributions to the country’s only independent film festival, CamboFest. Among the Cambodian contributions, The Red Sense by Tim Pek swayed the jury with its portrayal of a woman’s quest to find her father’s killer. Farkas (Wolf), a film by Tamas Toth about a vampire wolf, grabbed the trophy in the Feature Fiction category. Among the Feature Documentaries, A Life in Hashistan prevailed, in which Tonya Dreher portrays an age-old sect of Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Some of the other winners included Rebel Song by British director Simon Arthur, which claimed the prize for best Short Fiction film and Intestines of the Earth by Barbier Olivier for best Short Documentary.
The creators of a new comedy show parodying everyday life on the streets of Phnom Penh are anxious to see whether the show's lightning-quick succession of sketches will strike a chord with its target audience of young Cambodians.
Upside Down, a product of Khmer Mekong Films (KMF), sits at the heart of the programming of CTN's second channel, MYTV, which aims at a largely untapped source of spending power: people between the ages of 13 and 35.
Twenty-six episodes of the show have been filmed, with the first one aired Saturday at 12:30pm. Its attractive cast of four women and four men parodies daily occurrences on the capital's streets in a fast-paced series of sketches, about 18 of which fit into every episode.
Matthew Robinson, KMF's founder and the show's executive producer, described its formula as "Khmer humour reinforced with Western discipline".
In one scene, a young man is barred from walking on the sidewalk by a wall of parked cars and scooters. Eventually, he stops two men on a motorbike, takes the wooden stool they are carrying and uses it to climb over the barricade.
I was really confused during the first few scenes, but then I realised what was going on.
In another scene, a young couple is kept from enjoying a romantic moment together by a series of vendors loudly advertising their goods. When a vendor exclaims that he is selling condoms, the young man jumps up and runs after him to make a purchase.
Testing the market
On Thursday, Robinson tried to see how Upside Down would resonate with its target audience by screening the first three episodes for students - many in their early 20s - enrolled in a communications class at Pannasastra University.
The main question was whether they could get used to the sketch format, which is a novelty for Cambodians, whose regular comedic diet, according to Robinson, consists mainly of fake mustaches and grimaces.
"I was really confused during the first few scenes, but then I realized what was going on," said Sum Sovann Panha, one of the students.
Lim Piseth, another student, said he thought the format would catch on quickly.
"Many Cambodians are used to Western shows like Mr Bean, and this is pretty similar," he said.
Some students were concerned about young people showing their romantic affection on TV, but Robinson pointed out that his team had been careful to show nothing more than people holding hands.
He said the show will also stay away from potentially difficult issues such as religion and politics.
Another issue was the show's exclusive focus on the city, with a number of students saying that people in rural areas might not get the jokes because they are not used to city life or Western-style comedy.
Robinson disagreed. "They might not have the same education [as you], but they do have brains.
"People are not going to like every single joke," he said. "That's normal." But he said he hopes Cambodians are ready for something different.
Judging by the near-constant laughs the show earned from the Pannasastra students, he has good reason to be optimistic.