Shinta Mani hotel was transformed into a bustling film set this week as Singaporean television star Elvin Ng shot scenes for his new drama series, The Jade Elephant.
The five-episode “epic adventure story of love and ambition,” which will be broadcast Asia-wide in the third-quarter of this year, is Cambodia’s first international TV co-production. It is co-produced by CTN Cambodia, Khmer Mekong Films (KMF) and MediaCorp Singapore.
The series, described by executive producer Matthew Robinson as a “rollicking adventure story” in the vein of classic British thriller The 39 Steps, follows lead actor Ng as successful but troubled Singapore architect Sam Lee, the hero of the tale.
Lee comes to Siem Reap to supervise the building of a deluxe hotel he’s designed, but discovers a priceless jade elephant with magical properties is buried underneath the site. The elephant seems to be, “the centre of ancient legends, and of a raging controversy.” This, he finds, is just the beginning of his troubles.
His leading lady and love interest is provided by young actress Lida Duch, a big star of Khmer TV.
Filming for what CTN is billing as, “the biggest telemovie of 2014,” takes place in Siem Reap, Phnom Penh and Singapore. Temple Town locations included Shinta Mani hotel, the old market, the river, bridges and the airport.
A chase scene was also filmed at the Sambor Prei Kuk temple complex and its forests near Kampong Thom.
Robinson said some preparation was necessary before the forest scenes, to ensure a safe and trouble-free shoot.
“We had to have the areas fumigated for insects two hours before shooting, and checked for snakes,” he said. “Also routes through the undergrowth had to be cleared of stones, brambles and branches so that the running cameraman and the star didn’t tumble and injure themselves. So far, no injuries at all – fingers crossed.”
Shinta Mani general manager Christian de Boer said he was pleased to be involved in a production that showed Cambodia in such a positive light.
“I was asked by Mr Matthew Robinson if Shinta Mani would be willing to work with CTN and MediaCorp in the production of this TV drama which is to be shown all over Asia,” he said. “At Shinta Mani we believe this film will show the beauty of the Khmer countryside and the Khmer people as well as a good storyline.
“As a result it will increase tourism and thus create much needed jobs. It’s a very positive and pro-Cambodia program, thus giving the TV audience another take on our beautiful kingdom.”
He added that many hotel staff were delighted to find themselves as extras in the Shinta Mani and airport scenes.
“The staff were enormously excited to be working with an internationally recognised actor and get a behind-the-scenes look into the TV industry,” he said. “I believe Mr Elvin Ng really appreciated the friendliness of the Khmer people and the levels of service he experienced in Siem Reap.
“He was pleasantly surprised about the optimism in our kingdom and at Shinta Mani.”
The Jade Elephant is directed by 32-year-old Cambodian director Tom Som, whose 2009 feature film Vanished garnered praise from Hollywood’s Variety magazine, which described it as, “well performed and technically accomplished … a decent little whodunit,” and of “international standard.”
Executive producer Matthew Robinson also has an impressive CV. He was previously Head of Drama for BBC Wales and, prior to that, executive producer of BBC long-running series EastEnders.
After a 30-year career in television, Robinson came to Cambodia with the BBC World Service Trust in 2004 to produce A Taste of Life, a highly successful series tackling health issues, particularly HIV/AIDS, for channels TV5 and TVK.
Two years later he set up his own film and television production company, Khmer Mekong Films, in Phnom Penh.
Former Elite Models Singapore model Elvin Ng, 33, rose to fame in 2006 after making it onto the Top 10 Most Popular Male Artistes list at MediaCorp’s annual Star Awards. He made the list three years running, and earned a Best Actor nomination for his role in Singaporean Chinese drama Breakout.
One of the unusual features of the production was the fact that because he only speaks English and Mandarin, he will have to be overdubbed in post-production.
Robinson said that during filming, Ng spoke his lines in English, with the Cambodian cast speaking Khmer. In post-production, Ng’s voice will be over-dubbed by a top Khmer voice artist, words lip-synced so he appears to be speaking Khmer.