Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Restored Cambodian classic 12 Sisters to see ‘historic’ screening in Phnom Penh

Restored Cambodian classic 12 Sisters to see ‘historic’ screening in Phnom Penh

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A screenshot from 12 Sisters, which will be shown in its original format tonight for the first time since before the Khmer Rouge. Photo supplied

Restored Cambodian classic 12 Sisters to see ‘historic’ screening in Phnom Penh

Exactly 50 years ago, the Cambodian film industry was propelled forward by the release of Puthyisen Neang Kong Rey, or “12 Sisters”, by iconic director Ly Bun Yim. It was one of the first local films shot on 35 millimetre film, not 16mm, and it used daring special effects in a way the Kingdom had not seen before – showing a flying Pegagus, gory eye-gouging and a dramatic earthquake. The story follows the hardships of the dozen sisters, who suffer from sins committed in past lives.

Between 1960 and 1975, Bun Yim produced more than 20 films. But when Cambodia fell under the rule of the Pol Pot regime, almost all of his works were lost. Just three are known to remain in usable condition today – “12 Sisters”, Sobasith and Orn Euy Srey Orn.

“Before 2012, we only have the poor quality image film of ‘12 Sisters’ that people can see if they go to Ly Bun Yim’s house and ask him to show the film on the TV,” said filmmaker Davy Chou.

Fortunately, that year a higher quality 35mm print of the film was found at the house of Bun Yim’s son, Dawish D Nil, in Norwalk, California, though it was a version dubbed into Thai.

Director Ly Bun Yim at his home last week.
Director Ly Bun Yim at his home last week. Heng Chivoan

It was sent to Berlin to be screened in the Forum program of the Berlin Film Festival, with English subtitles.

“At that time, the people were so happy to see the film . . . After the event people asked whether or not they can screen the film, but the director of the Forum . . . said the film is too fragile so we should keep it and wait for the restoration,” he said.

Not wanting to risk further damaging the print, it was left in a temperature-controlled laboratory – at minus 18 Celsius – in Berlin.

There it sat for four years waiting for restoration. In 2016, it was digitised into a high-definition format by Nobukazu Suzuki, a Japanese archivist who has worked to preserve Cambodia’s trove of old films. It was then screened in Japan with dubbed Thai audio and Japanese subtitles.

“I think it took only one week [for him] because it is not restoration but a digitisation,” Chou said.

Last year, Kyoto University, in association with the Japan Foundation and with the assistance of former Bophana archivist Lim Sophorn, worked with Bun Yim to re-synchronise the Khmer audio into the film, which was later screened again in Japan.

Tonight at Chaktomuk Theater, “12 Sisters” will be showing in high definition in Cambodia for the first time, with Khmer audio re-synchronised and English subtitles added by the Bophana Center. The screening is part of a special tribute to the director in which the festival will show all three of his remaining movies. For Chou and the many film buffs working behind the scenes, it’s a moment years in the making.

“I hope we will have a house full of young people,” he said. “For me, the screening of this film is historic.”

“12 Sisters” will be showing tonight at Chaktomuk Theater at 6:30pm, in the presence of director Ly Bun Yim. “Khmer After Angkor”, or Orn Euy Srey Orn, is showing Thursday morning at Bophana Center at 10am.

MOST VIEWED

  • Rainsy lands in Malaysia

    Cambodian opposition figure Sam Rainsy arrived in Kuala Lumpur airport on Saturday afternoon after boarding a flight from Paris, where he has been living for more than four years. Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation spokesperson Koy Kuong said on Saturday that Cambodia respected

  • Touch: Rainsy will never return

    Sam Rainsy, the “acting president” of the Supreme Court-dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP), has claimed it has achieved 70 per cent of its struggle to find a solution to the current political situation in the Kingdom. Just before boarding a plane at Charles de Gaulle

  • Sokha continues call for dropping of charge after bail conditions reduced

    Not satisfied with having his bail conditions reduced, allowing him to travel freely in Cambodia, Kem Sokha says he wants his charge totally dropped. “As an innocent man who has been in detention for two years even without being found guilty, I continue to demand

  • MEPs' call for Rainsy's safety not European Parliament position

    The European Parliament said on Friday that a statement by 56 Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) calling for guarantees of Sam Rainsy’s freedom and safety should he return to Cambodia did not represent its position. Delphine Colard, the European Parliament’s press officer told

  • Sar Kheng: Rainsy return not blocked

    Minister of Interior Sar Kheng clarified that Cambodia had never blocked Sam Rainsy from returning to the Kingdom. However, he said Cambodia reserved the right to take legal action as allowed by law against activities aimed at destroying the Kingdom. “No one blocked the return

  • Cambodia celebrates 66th Independence Day

    Cambodia on Saturday celebrated Independence Day to mark the end of French colonial rule under the leadership of King Father Norodom Sihanouk in 1953. Thousands of people from all walks of life watched King Norodom Sihamoni light the victory flame at Independence Monument to mark the 66