Lifestyle & More

Heritage Line’s Top 10 Movies Set in Cambodia

During these times of social distancing, why not satiate your curiosity for Cambodia with our list of must-see films? Stream these cinematic masterpieces while dreaming about your upcoming Lower Mekong cruise with us!

Also, don’t miss our compilation of top films in next-door Laos.

10. Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001)

Perhaps the list’s best known movie is the 2001 summer blockbuster starring Angelina Jolie. This action-adventure romp features several landmarks from around the world, including Siem Reap’s Angkor Archaeological Park. Most notable is the scene in which Lara Croft hunts down an ancient relic in the mysterious Ta Prohm temple, with its characteristic jungle surroundings and tree roots sprawled atop the ruins.

In addition to breaking box office records for video-game adaptation as well as film with a female protagonist, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider would also spark Angelina Jolie’s captivation with Cambodia. She returned to the country the following year to adopt her first child, Maddox, and in 2017, directed the award-winning First, They Killed My Father (see below).

9. Same Same But Different (2009)

During his travels throughout Southeast Asia, young German backpacker Ben meets and falls head over heels for Sreykeo, a local bar girl he meets in Phnom Penh. After returning to Hamburg, she informs him that she has tested HIV-positive. Despite their friends’ best efforts to keep them apart, true love triumphs as Ben returns to Cambodia to reunite with Sreykeo and oversee her treatments.

This German autobiographical film is based on a memoir by Benjamin Prufer.

8. Enemies of the People (2009)

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to create a list of films set in Cambodia without mentioning a tragic era under the ruthless Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. One of these is an eye-opening documentary following Cambodian co-director Thet Sambath’s personal quest to delve into the minds of former senior Khmer Rouge officials. His mission was fueled by the desire to understand their reasoning for murdering both his parents and siblings just two decades before. Unsurprisingly, all former regime members he had contacted throughout the 1990’s remained tight-lipped and refused to offer any sort of confession.

That is, until he met Pol Pot’s right-hand man known as ‘Brother Number Two’, Nuon Chea, in 2001. For nearly 30 years, he had denied having any part in the killings. And so it was no easy task for Sambath, who visited Nuon Chea every week for three years, slowly gaining his trust (and while not revealing his family members were victims to the massacre). When finally acknowledging to Sambath in 2004 he had a role in ordering the genocide, Nuon Chea would justify his actions by claiming, “Because they were enemies of the people.”

7. Two Brothers (2004)

This charming family-friendly film, directed by Oscar-winning Jean-Jacques Annaud, is set in the 1920s during French Colonial rule. Actor Guy Pearce plays lead as the English adventurer, Aidan McRory, but stealing the spotlight are two Bengal tiger brothers, Kumal and Sangha, who are separated as infant cubs before being reunited as adults.

6. Angkor Awakens: A Portrait of Cambodia (2017)

In addition to the recounting the Khmer Rouge’s reign of terrors during the 1970s, this documentary also takes an intimate look into today’s younger generation and how its seeks to overcome its dreadful past while charting its way into a brighter future.

Angkor Awakens can be now be streamed on Amazon Prime.

5. A River Changes Course (2013)

A River Changes Course is an award-winning documentary which follows three Cambodian locales: urban sprawl encroaches on a tiny jungle village, a riverside hamlet dependent on fishing is impacted by environmental changes, and a rural villager seeks work in Phnom Penh so she can send money back home to her impoverished family. The film’s title refers not just to Tonle Sap, the only river in the world that runs in both directions, but also to the rapid changes impacting Cambodians of all walks of life.

4. First, They Killed My Father (2017)

Based on a best-selling memoir, this all-Cambodian cast feature film depicts author Loung Ung’s experiences as a young child in 1975. As the U.S. pulls out of neutral Cambodia during the Vietnam War, Ung’s family is left defenceless to the rapidly approaching forces of the Khmer Rouge. Her father, an officer of the National Armed Forces, is executed, her six siblings sent to forced labor camps, and the 5-year-old Ung is recruited as a child soldier by the Khmer Rouge.

Directed by Angelina Jolie, First, They Killed My Father was nominated as Best Foreign Language Film by the Golden Globes and can now be streamed on Netflix.

3. The Last Reel (2014)

This fictional take of Cambodia’s factual past is helmed by director Sotho Kulikar, who worked with Angelina Jolie in Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Oscar-nominated The Missing Picture. While wandering abandoned cinemas, modern day college student Sophoun stumbles upon a movie poster featuring her mother. Upon further investigation, she discovers Cambodia’s Golden Age of Cinema in the decades prior to the genocide of the country’s intellectual and creative population.

2. The Missing Picture (2013)

As director Rithy Panh seeks to retell the story of Cambodia under the oppressive Khmer Rouge using archival footage, he notices that there is a severe absence of photos, videos, and record that can help him tell the whole story – all were wiped out by the regime. Thus, he uses motionless clay figures as a form of poetic expression interspersed with documentary footage to illustrate this dark history of Camobida.

The Missing Picture has nabbed several accolades, including top prize in the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, and is Cambodia’s first ever entry into the Academy Awards with its nomination for Best Foreign Language Film.

1. The Killing Fields (1984)

Topping our list is a biographical drama and true story about two journalists, Cambodian Dith Pran and American Sydney Schanberg, who witness atrocities committed by both sides during the Cambodian Civil War as well as the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge takeover. Not only would the real-life Schanberg be awarded a Pulitzer prize for his coverage of the conflict, The Killing Fields would also receive seven Oscar nominations – three of which it would win, including Best Picture.

Experience the magic of Cambodia and its striking landscape backdrops, historic sights, personal encounters, traditions, and centuries-old artisanship on a Heritage Line cruise along the lower Mekong River. Unforgettable 7-, 4- and 3-night options are available aboard our luxurious boutique vessels, Heritage Line Jayavarman and The Jahan.