SINGAPORE — Cambodian director Chhay Bora — whose first feature film Lost Loves is Cambodia’s second-ever official entry to the Oscar’s for foreign language film this year — will co-direct a Singapore-financed dramatic thriller about human trafficking in his country. The new co-production, the first between Singapore and Cambodia, was announced this week at ScreenSingapore, Southeast Asia’s annual film industry conference.
Bora says that although the film, titled 3.50, will be a gritty thriller, his ultimate aim in tackling the topic of child prostitution and human trafficking in Cambodia is educational, rather than exploitation.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the director said: “Young people from poor families in Cambodia are often recruited to work far from home. Some of them find good jobs and are able to support their families, but some of them fall into the hands of bad people and are forced into the sex industry. By making this film, we can educate our poor farmers that they need to be very careful; and we can try to help our country to not become a place for sex tourists.”
As he did with Lost Loves, a personal account of his wife’s family’s travails during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia of the 1970s, Bora intends to screen the film in Phnom Penh’s two modern cinemas, before taking it on a road show to the country’s rural provinces.
Former Miss Singapore and local screen idol Eunice Olsen will star in the film as a brash documentary filmmaker who ventures into the seedy underground world of Cambodia’s “virgin trade” to rescue a young girl lured from her rural village and sold into the sex trade.
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Olsen, who is also executive producing, has been active in various non-profits in Cambodia such as “Water for Living, Books for Learning,” which builds libraries and water filtration systems for schools and orphanages across the country. She says she first became interested in the issue of child prostitution when she met a former victim in 2005.
“I hope that by sharing the stories of these victims we will be able to shed some light on the severity of sex trafficking in the region,” Olsen said. “I truly want this film to inspire viewers, as I have been.”
The filmmakers say they conducted research in Cambodia's streets for eight months, interviewing those formerly and currently involved in the local sex trade.
The Singaporean producers say one of their reasons for taking on the project was a desire to help Bora and his team further develop the emerging Cambodian industry, during this very early stage of tentative growth and exposure.
“The film began with the aim of forging ties with our Cambodian neighbors and highlighting compelling stories from the Southeast Asian region,” said Chan Gin Kai, one of the Singaporean producers on the project. “During pre-production we also conducted open acting and filmmaking workshops to train the Cambodian crew.”
The film will be co-directed by Singaporean young director Eysham Ali, a recent graduate of the Asian Film Academy, and one-time student of Luc Besson. It is being produced by Singapore’s Supernova Media. Shooting began two weeks ago in Phnom Penh and a release date is slated for mid-2013 in Singapore and Cambodia.