The lights dim, a black and white screen appears transitioning into a counter, 126.96.36.199. It fades to black and opens to a crackling sound and an image of a fuzzy TV screen. Then Tom Brokaw, a popular American anchorman in the '90s appears on screen reporting the shocking death of Cambodian actor Haing S. Ngor in 1996 in a shooting in Los Angeles...
The Killing Fields
Mention Cambodia to most foreigners and two things come to mind; Angkor Watt and the movie “The Killing Fields”. The film follows the life of Dith Pran, a Cambodian journalist who, like many of his compatriots, endured unbelievable suffering under the Khmer Rouge regime. The actor that portrayed Dith Pran was Haing S. Ngor, was by training a doctor in Cambodia. He was also a Khmer Rouge survivor and came across the opportunity to play the part by chance.
The new documentary “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor”, directed by Arthur Dong, explores the life of the late doctor/actor. The movie begins with a scene of his niece (who escaped Cambodia with him and whom he raised as his daughter) and his close friend opening boxes of Dr. Ngor’s belongings and going through his mementos. The movie starts off with happier moments in Dr. Ngor’s early life through brief glimpses of his childhood growing up in Takeo (Bati District), going to medical school, and meeting the love of his life (Huoy). Then the political darkness unfolds; the country delving into civil war, the Khmer Rouge takeover and his unlikely survival and escape to the U.S., winning the Oscar and activism later in his life. The film is an emotional roller-coaster of high and low moments of a man who became the public face of Cambodia's plight.
Through his life story the narrative of Cambodia’s political history is masterfully weaved in with beautiful cartoon caricatures superimposed with archived political footage (some never seen before in color). All of this is poignantly balanced with voice-overs of excerpts of his book “Survival in the Killing Fields”, and at times his voice or powerful footage from past interviews.
An Emotional Roller-Coaster
The movie succeeded in finding the right balance to tell a compelling personal and political story. Every Cambodian of his generation has an unfathomable story of suffering at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. When he won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the Killing Fields, he not only shined a spotlight on that suffering, he amplified it so that the world took notice and began to pay attention to the horrors we experienced. And in the end, this is what took his life, as the movie insinuates.
Time and again, I have watched movies about the Khmer Rouge, and every time I do so, it is like reopening a wound and watching it bleed all over again. This film is no different. The most difficult part of the film was hearing Dr. Ngor describe the torture he endured under the Khmer Rouge. The most heart-breaking was when he was on an American TV show describing how he couldn’t use his medical skills to save his wife, who was dying from childbirth, even though he was a gynecologist.
When the credits rolled, I was numb. Watching his life unfold, watching our country descend into an abyss. What left me saddened was the suffering our country endured. What left me angry is being indecisive on who was most to blame and how many escaped justice. While the Khmer Rouge Tribunal continues to move forward so many of the top leaders have not been held accountable for their crimes, with the recent death being Ieng Thirith, Minister of Social Affairs and wife of Ieng Sary, Foreign Minister.
After watching these movies (Missing Picture, Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten, Lost Loves, etc.), I often become sad for days and wonder why I put myself through this emotional turmoil. Watching these powerful movies triggers in many Cambodians sadness and anger. Many survivors can’t bear to reopen old wounds. We all know the story too well inside and out . It’s the same narrative, peace, then conflict, indignity and suffering resulting in a lost generation and a country held back.
Why is it Important to Watch These Movies
Cambodia’s dark past is starting to become a faint shadow. It is easy to forget what our country endured in the midst of luxury high rises propping up around town, the glitz of modern shopping malls and a young generation hungry for change. As the years pass, and traces of our suffering become withered with time, I wonder if the legacy of our dark history will be just a blip on the radar for the next generation who may not want to learn, acknowledge and accept an uncomfortable past. Will it no longer be part of our collective trauma and collective conscience with each passing generation? Will the younger generation and the subsequent generations thereafter fully comprehend the extent of pain, suffering, and setbacks we suffered at the hands of these atrocities. The country as a whole, and the younger generation should wholeheartedly embrace hope for a brighter future, but it is also necessary from time to time, to reflect on our journey, no matter how difficult, no matter how distant.
Through striking visuals and powerful testimonials, “The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor”, was a painfully beautiful, mesmerizing and evocative film pushing and pulling the chords of our emotions revisiting the remarkable journey of one of the most famous Cambodians. Dr. Ngor once said “nothing has shaped my life as much as surviving the Pol Pot regime. I am a survivor of the Cambodian holocaust. That’s who I am.” Like or not, that's what our country is, that's who we are. We've overcome insurmountable obstacles to be where we are today. Although we should refuse to be defined by it, we should never forget. This film, and many others like it, is an important lesson to help us remember, reflect, and renew our resolve to never repeat the fatal mistakes of the past.
To see the trailer and for more information visit: http://haingngorfilm.com
Screenings and Broadcasts
September 6, 2015
Cambodia Town Film Festival
Art Theatre, 6:30pm
2025 East 4th Street
Long Beach, CA
August 21–28, 2015
Cambodia Film Tour
Co-presented by the U.S. Embassy Phnom Penh, and Bophana Center, the international Cambodia premiere of The Killing Fields of Dr. Haing S. Ngor includes stops in Phnom Penh, Battambang, Siem Reap, and Dr. Ngor’s hometown, Samrong Yong in Takeo. Director Arthur Dong will be in attendance at all screenings.
Contact: Tel: 077 811 668; email@example.com