Charismatic Cambodian film and television actor Savin Phillip stars in new Cambodian-Italian martial arts flick Hanuman, which opened in cinemas yesterday. The film follows a deadly bokator fighter who goes on a revenge-fuelled killing spree across Phnom Penh. However, it’s Phillip – who in real life has a background in the hotel industry and runs his own children’s charity – who steals the show as villain Kim Veng, a sociopathic crime lord with a penchant for soppy love songs, violence, golf – and his son’s girlfriend. Will Jackson caught up with the 42-year-old this week to talk social morals, tough monologues, stinky sets and the road to Hollywood.
Q&A / Hanuman actor Savin Phillip
Question: Are you concerned about people thinking you’re a bad guy because you’re playing one in the movie?
Answer: I think it depends on people’s mindset. If people understand it’s a film, they know it’s just acting. But still … before I did this movie, I had to discuss it with my wife. And she wasn’t happy, especially when [the director] Jimmy Henderson posted that scene when I was in bed between two girls. After that, I slept in fire, you know? She was a bit upset.
There’s a lot of violence but not much sex in Hanuman. What do you think about that?
It’s because of traditional values. The girl who plays my son’s girlfriend in the film [who dresses and behaves immodestly], a lot of people don’t like her [in real life]. But she’s just an actress. I think people need to understand that it’s a movie. She should get an award, because she did a very good job. But sometimes Cambodian people have very sensitive minds. But that’s changing.
What was the hardest scene to do in the film?
The hardest scene was the one in the bed with the girl, because before shooting I thought: ‘Oh my god. I feel … Oh my god.’ And this is the hardest. And the last scene that we shot in Takhmao, in one of the factories there, was difficult because there is a lot of s--t smelling there. During that scene, I ran out many times because it smelled so bad. And then, because the main actor played wrong, Jimmy had to reshoot. I said: ‘Oh it smells, so bad I can’t do it!’
What was the most enjoyable scene?
I enjoy the scene most after they kill my son, and I call all the gangsters for a meeting and tell them: “If you can’t do it [kill the vigilante], I do it myself.” It was one of the most difficult scenes because the monologue is very long, but I love this scene the most because it’s very hard, but I can do it. It’s very emotional. Telling the gangsters: “You used to sleep on the road but now you drink whisky.” I love this scene. It’s a very good scene.
What are your favourite movies?
I watch a lot of Hollywood action films and love stories. They’re my favourite. I love Air Force One with Harrison Ford. I saw it in Singapore and I still love it. Another one is Die Hard, and I love the guy in Taken 3, Liam Neeson. There’s one thing, I talk true, in Cambodia – when you get old, no one wants to invite you for acting. In Hollywood, when you’re old, 68 or 70, you are still the main actor. That’s a big thing I like about Hollywood movies.
What made you want to do Hanuman?
First, Jimmy used to work in Hollywood – he worked on Black Hawk Down – and I believe this film Hanuman will go to the international market, and it’s just my dream that maybe one day I can walk on the red carpet of Hollywood. Since the actor in The Killing Fields [Haing S Ngor] was killed, no other Cambodian star has been to Hollywood, so that’s why I do my best.
Hanuman is a martial arts film, but you don’t get to do any fighting, apart from kicking a little kid. What’s with that? [Spoilers follow]
Kim Veng is living in a luxury lifestyle, he’s a very clean guy. He only orders people around. He doesn’t do anything himself. What I regret is that I die at the end of the story. I told Jimmy you should not put me down to die, maybe you send me to jail or something. I want to be in the sequel!
Can you tell me a bit about your children’s charity?
It’s called Helping Children Cambodia. I work a lot with an NGO called Cambodia Dream Children. A clean water well project is part of that. We have done 35 wells in Takeo and 50 in Siem Reap. We also provide school stationery. The reason is that I love the kids. My father was killed in Pol Pot time in 1975, so when I see poor kids, I feel like I want to help them.
What are your plans for the future?
My plan is keep doing other movies if other productions will have me, especially the Western side, because I don’t have any problem with English language. And I will continue to do my charity projects.
Hanuman is playing at AEON Mall Cineplex, Platinum Cineplex and Legend Cinemas.