From Rio de Janeiro to Edinburgh, with stops in Northern California and New York,
a new film about the gritty realities of Cambodia's sex trade is making the international
rounds of the posh film festival circuit.
The underworld of Cambodia's sex trade has inspired photographers, authors and filmakers. Holly, a new film on the subject, is now being screened at film festivals around the world.
Holly, soon to be released by Priority Films of New York City, had an estimated budget
of $2 million. Written and produced by Guy Jacobson, an investment banker and executive
director of Priority Films, the movie was shot over the course of three months spanning
2004 and 2005. Using some equipment from the production of US actor Matt Dillon's
City of Ghosts, scenes were shot in Battambang, Phnom Penh, the Foreign Correspondents
Club and the K-11 brothel village of Svay Pak.
"City of Ghosts was not a realistic picture, it was an action/drama/thriller;
Holly is showcasing Cambodia in a more truthful sense of things - it's almost a docu-drama,"
said Phnom Penh resident Borom Chea, the film's casting director. "This is a
more important movie, but they did put the Hollywood tip in it. A loser who comes
in to save the girl? In reality that [stuff] isn't really going to happen."
On the surface, the film comes off like an avalanche of cliches. The movie stars
Ron Livingston, of the comedy Office Space and HBO sitcom Sex in the City, as a card-playing
con-man bent on self-destruction. In Bangkok, he gets hustled into moving looted
artifacts out of Cambodia by street-smart crime boss played by the late Chris Penn,
star of Reservoir Dogs. In fact, Holly is the last film Penn made before dying in
"Chris Penn was on drugs the whole time," said Chea. "My friend picked
him up at the airport and we took him to the Himawari and told him to stay in his
room. But he disappeared and took off somewhere. Then, the next day he couldn't speak
his lines because he slurred so much."
The film's female lead is Vietnamese ingenue Thuy Nguyen, who was 14 during the production.
A smart-alec street kid with a child's innocence, Nguyen's character is befriended
and protected by Livingston's "rudderless cad."
Critics have hailed both performances, while giving the overall film both high and
Eddie Cockrell, film reviewer for Variety magazine, wrote that the film "treaded
a firm, clear-eyed line between education and exploitation-too chaste to scandalize,
too dark for general audiences."
Jacobson, who has hinted there may be a Phnom Penh premier, wrote that the there
were misconceptions surrounding the project.
"Unfortunately, many people who were involved in the filming did not know what
we were filming and why," Jacobson wrote by e-mail. "I know that some people
had the mistaken belief that we were doing a film that would cast Cambodia in a bad
light. We will be interested to hear what they think of our project. I know some
people resented us, although what we are really trying to do is help."
Holly is one of three productions called collectively K-11 Project. Another is a
documentary about the making of the film called The K-11 Journey, and the last is
documentary about the sex trade titled The Virgin Harvest.