For the past few weeks, the dating habits of young Cambodians have been on display in the film Love 2 the Power of 4.
The Khmer-language romantic comedy looks at the relationships of four young, middle-class Cambodian couples as they struggle to balance their professional and romantic aspirations. In addition to trying to find time for one another in the modern world, their relationships are threatened by hidden secrets and shadows from their pasts that re-emerge in their everyday lives.
Love 2 the Power of 4 is the first feature film from Cambodian co-director and co-writer Sothea Ines, made alongside Nepali director Deependra Gauchan.
Ines started her career as a scriptwriter for both Loy9, a popular TV drama on CTN, and BBC Media Action’s Love9, for which Gauchan is the executive producer. The former addressed sexual and reproductive health issues for young Cambodians, and from 2013 to 2016, its episodes drew a weekly audience of more than 2 million.
“We did this project because of the motivation from our old crews and cast from Loy9 and Love9 [to do something again],” Ines said.
While Love 2 the Power of 4 does not have an explicitly educational mission, it does take on similar themes as Loy9, such as the young protagonists try to navigate dating in a changing society.
For instance, Sam (Kim Saron), a stylish photographer, grows upset with the busy schedule of his celebrity girlfriend Nyta (Mean Sonita), which worsens when Vatanak (Ching Yanng Koung), her ex, re-enters her life. Sensitive issues such as relationships between transgender people, the trauma that results from the deaths of loved ones, suicide and abortion are all woven into the story.
“During the brainstorming and creating stories period, we wanted to bring up as many issues as possible in current society, which hadn’t been captured in Cambodian cinema yet,” Ines explained.
“This movie portrayed how complex modern and mature loves as I myself have observed are. For people my age, some are still single, some are married and some are starting a new journey.”
With much of the cast already familiar to viewers of Loy9, the film has done well with young audiences; the film’s producers declined to release box office numbers but Ines says that, as of January 29, an average of about 1,000 tickets have been sold per day in the week and a half since its release.
Conservative parents, though, might not be pleased with it, as the film features topics that are taboo in much of society. For example, it depicts couples living together prior to marriage, as well as premarital sex both of which remain controversial.
The film also directly challenges parents’ influence over their children’s marriages and relationships. Vatanak is forced by his parents to give Nyta up, and later, to his regret, accepts an arranged marriage.
Pich Sophy, who plays Clint, a Cambodian-American cowboy from Arizona and an ex in a complex love triangle, claims the film does not break “cultural barriers but social barriers” between the younger and older generation.
“I don’t believe the themes in the film are new,” he said. “These also occurred in previous generations, but [the parents of today’s young people] simply kept them secret due to cultural restrictions. The actors/actresses in Love 2 the Power of 4 represent those who choose not keep them secret.”
Noun Nita, 27, an enthusiastic cinemagoer who watched Love 2 the Power of 4 earlier this week at Major Cineplex, said she could see herself in the film’s characters.
“I’ve experienced dealing with the same problems faced by them,” she said.
“Young love is so complicated; you could be happy today and fight like cats and dogs tomorrow. Two lovers have been in love for so many years, only to be finished when one of them accepts a marriage arranged by his or her family.”
In response to a question that recurs repeatedly during the film’s running time – What is love? – Nita was hopeful.
“For me, love is simply blind.”
Watch the trailer here:
Love 2 the Power of 4 has just finished its run in cinemas but will be broadcast on the CTN in the coming months. For more information, visit the film’s Facebook page.