Tuesday, April 28, 2015

LAAPFF ’15: Cambodia 2099 (short)

Koh Pich or Diamond Island is the Cambodian government’s showcase development zone, yet the young people who congregate there still think about leaving. For two friends, this will probably entail one-way tickets, but the nature of their travel will be radically different in Davy Chou’s short film, Cambodia 2099 (clip here), which screens during the 2015 Los Angeles AsianPacific Film Festival.

If their dreams are any guide, both Kavich and Sotha will soon be leaving Phnom Penh. The former will be joining his mother in Stockton as a conventional immigrant, while the latter believes the secret of time travel has been revealed to him. Naturally, it involves a crash helmet and red pajamas. Not so surprisingly, it will be Kavich rather than Sotha who leaves behind a girlfriend, but he is not so eager to have that farewell conversation with Vanary.

Chou’s feature documentary Golden Slumbers was so exquisitely moving his next project would probably be something of a let-down no matter what it was. Throughout 2099 he again displays a keen eye for visuals, but the tone and focus are somewhat inconsistent, which is a problem for a short film. Nevertheless, it heralds the remarkable debut of actress Sothea Vann. In many ways, she brings to mind Shu Qi in Millennium Mambo, as two formerly free-spirited party girls who are coming to terms with the disappointments of reality.

So should Cambodia’s future generations stay or should they go? Cambodia’s political and economic systems are obvious more firmly rooted in law than say forty years ago, but they still leave much to be desired. It would be convenient if Sotha could turn forward the hands of the clock to see whether it is worth staying to struggle for further improvements. Either way, there will be an increasing pool of modern, largely westernized students, like Vanary.

Cambodia 2099 was conceived as a way for Chou’s collaborators to build confidence before he commenced filming a narrative feature, so in a way it is a perfect project to follow-up the widely celebrated Slumbers. Even if it is not a perfect short, he is clearly a talented filmmaker and Vann is a highly promising screen thesp. On balance, their work is still definitely worth watching in Cambodia 2099, when it screens tomorrow (4/29) as part of the Something Around the Corner short film block at this year’s LAAPFF.