I only heard about First They Killed My Father, from social media, to be produced in Cambodia back then. Little did I know the production affected those colleagues closest to me like Rithea. Until recently, I didn’t expect to be invited to the premiere of this true-event-based movie. Without boasting, I was even authorized to list down other guests I find appropriate for this screening! Despite all the “low-key” arrangements, all I could guess was it was going to be another Khmer Rouge movie. But I didn’t anticipate the different angle and intention of the director, Angelina Jolie, in great chemistry with its author, Ung Luang.
Many of my friends and acquaintances kept asking me if they could pay to see it. But the first screenings only happened in Cambodia within this February. So if you want to see it at your “leisure”, it should be on Netflix, a worldwide subscription-based movie app. It is also the company that has invested in this novel-inspired work. The truth is, Cambodia is not yet open enough to this digital platform. So make the dots between Angie and this movie by yourself! Besides, while this project already benefited Cambodian film crew, I only hope the next one will see them on bigger credits!
The beginning of the story is quite predicable, as most Cambodian millenials learned about this dark regime from History. What was unknown is how all the scenes follow the eyes of an innocent girl, who was the author in her pre-teenage. No much dialog is involved. Only the action of adults who seem to dominate her own will. Maybe it goes to show how Cambodian children were deprived of better chances in that manipulating period.
By past face-off, I meant two consequences of this auto-genocide: one near and the other far. The near face-off is dramatically highlighted in a final scene, in which a former Khmer Rouge soldier was mob-attacked and punished. After this attack is spared, our protagonist is left to face him alone. What would you do if you were her? The far consequence is how Cambodian survivors learn to live their lives, despite or along with this historic trauma. Would they forgive, but never forget? Would younger generations learn to accept or ignore it?
After all, I’d say “First They Killed My Father” is daring in its approach for attempting to revisit Cambodian History from fresh eyes. I bet you’ll never look at our past the same way again, after understanding about the little Luang. And I may need to read the book to feel the differences and learn some missing parts?!