4 Best Movies to Watch From Cambodia

Staff & contributors

In both documentaries and films, adoptees meeting their biological parents for the first time is an event often painted in a sweet light. Never mind the child’s mixed feelings about it or the tragic reality that caused the split in the first place—it’s a reunion between family members, so it must be unequivocally special. In Return to Seoul, director Davy Chou doesn’t just debunk that myth, he subverts it by making the adoptee, Freddie, as unapologetically complex and emotionally enigmatic as possible. She resists affection but wallows in loneliness. She craves reinvention but stays in the same place for years. She’s in constant motion while being absolutely stuck in life. In other words, she’s a realistic embodiment of a person struggling to find some semblance of home. Chou displays an intimate understanding of the foreign experience, and he couples it with captivating cinematography, a rousing soundtrack, and fantastic performances across the board to make a daring, inventive, and thoroughly exciting film. 

Genre: Drama

Actor: Guka Han, Heo Jin, Hur Jin, Kim Dong-seok, Kim Sun-young, Louis-Do de Lencquesaing, Oh Gwang-rok, Oh Kwang-rok, Yoann Zimmer

Director: Davy Chou

Rating: R

The medium of cinema has been used as a tool for revolution, but so too was it complicit in genocide. That was true of the Khmer Rouge regime, as the remaining footage of the time came entirely from the state, to be used in re-education programs and propaganda to hide the difficult realities caused by the administration. In response, three decades later, documentarian Rithy Panh reclaims the medium, juxtaposing archival footage of Pol Pot’s programs and Cambodia before, with clay figurines formed from his memories. It’s a grim recollection, but The Missing Picture takes back cinema to keep a collective memory that must be preserved.

Genre: Animation, Documentary

Actor: Jean-Baptiste Phou, Randal Douc

Director: Rithy Panh

After years of documentaries covering Thailand’s controversial issues, some of which have been temporarily banned by the Ministry of Culture, Nontawat Numbenchapol takes a step into feature film in Doi Boy. The plot covers plenty of the topics he’s previously depicted– immigration, prostitution, and corruption– but it unfolds naturally into a slow-paced, but moving drama where an undocumented sex worker tries to find home. Awat Ratanapintha as Sorn excellently leads this journey, but Arak Amornsupasiri as reluctant cop Ji, and Bhumibhat Thavornsiri as passionate activist Wuth also make their mark. While the film doesn’t delve into the intricate intersectionality, it feels like that’s part of the point. The notion of a nation doesn’t care about people’s dreams, even if that dream is for the nation to be better.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Thriller

Actor: Arak Amornsupasiri, Awat Ratanapintha, Bhumibhat Thavornsiri, Ornjira Lamwilai, Panisara Rikulsurakan, Teerawat Mulvilai

Director: Nontawat Numbenchapol

It's an incredible story, but it's one that only really deserves to be told a certain way, which director Arthur Harari gets right. Onoda's one-man crusade to continue World War II is nothing short of delusional, and Harari spends most of the film following the soldier as his companions die one by one, worsening his delusions even further. Unfortunately, even with how impressively strange this story is, 10,000 Nights in the Jungle still misses the opportunity to look through the lens of Onoda's victims. He is, after all, a literal embodiment of colonization's lingering effects, so it's sad that the Philippines here is just window dressing more than anything.

Genre: Adventure, Drama, History, War

Actor: Angeli Bayani, Chiba Tetsuya, Issey Ogata, Kai Inowaki, Kanji Tsuda, Kuu Izima, Kyūsaku Shimada, Mutsuo Yoshioka, Nobuhiro Suwa, Ryu Morioka, Shinsuke Kato, Taiga Nakano, Tomomitsu Adachi, Yuya Endo, Yuya Matsuura

Director: Arthur Harari