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Cambodian Son Wants to Awaken Cambodia’s Soul

Nou Sotheavy / Khmer Times Share:

Kosal Khiev performing a spoken word piece in the new documentary, “Cambodian Son”. (Photo Provided by Studio Revolt)
PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Cambodian Son is an experimental documentary about Kosal Khiev, an experimental man. Deported from the U.S., this former California gang member is reinventing himself as a bicultural bard of Phnom Penh.


From Crime to Inspirational Words

The 90-minute film comes across much the way Mr. Kosal performs his poetry of spoken word. Film director Masahiro Sugano mixes black and white imagery, animation, upside down shots, and scenes of plants – all in an attempt to break away from the seriousness and raw emotions shown with Mr. Kosal’s poetry. Flares of anger and the choked words he uses are often time difficult to hear without feeling his torture. He describes how he and other deportees are still finding their way, after being displaced from both America and Cambodia.

In 2011, Mr. Kosal was deported to Cambodia. He no longer was the one year old babe who left with his family, fleeing the destruction of the Khmer Rouge. He returned as a 31-year-old man who had been convicted and sentenced for 16 years in a state penitentiary for attempted murder — a crime he committed at 16 years old.

The film follows Mr. Kosal as he struggles to find stability in a country he never knew, while still mourning his prior life and family in the States.

Produced by Studio Revolt, the film follows Mr. Kosal’s life and this unexpected influence of his spoken words.  His popularity catapults him into the lime light of performing as Cambodian representative at a cultural Olympiad attached to the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. He embarks on an unexpected adventure of wonder, loss, prejudice and discovery of a new life.

The film portrays Mr. Kosal’s family back in the States. Through great editing and soft music, the clip shows family members describing the troubled Kosal.  Disconnected from their exiled youngest son and brother, the film shows an imperfect human spirit battling to keep hope and perseverance.

A Community of Exiles 

Although the film focuses on Mr. Kosal’s life, he is just one of the two million people who have been deported by the U.S. government between 2009  to 2013. Over the last decade, about 600 Cambodian-Americans have been deported here. And another 1,900 are in various stages of the deportation pipeline.

Two short films were made previously by Studio Revolt. The  independent  media lab is run by Osaka born Sugano and his partner producer Anida Yoeu Ali, who was born in Battambang and raised in Chicago.

Raising awareness of the growing deportation of Cambodian Americans to a country they barely knew, “Cambodian Son” is their first feature film to address the ongoing drama of separating family members. People who left Cambodia as children and refugees, grew up in poor neighborhoods, still recovering from the pyschological trauma of flight from genocide.

Most “exiles” failed to become legal citizens in the United States before turning 18. After being convicted of a crime, they received sentences made more painful by deportation.

“Because of the cruel, humorous and generous fate of his, Kosal came to represent many American social issues that most of us would read in the newspaper or history books,” Mr. Sugano said. “I believed in my gut that if I followed him with clear and open eyes, the story would unfold somehow, and its message would make itself evident.” 

Many other deportees were interviewed in the film. Most of were separated  from their family and had little to no support when they arrived in Cambodia. They left the Kingdom as children the way they returned as adults — with nothing. 

But Kosal persevered. So did many of his fellow exiles, forced to start anew in Phnom Penh. 

Without pulling punches, Mr. Sugano showed Kosal as a human being  full of doubts, inspiration, depression, and hope. In a roller coaster of good and bad luck, Kosal is an interesting person to watch. 

On January 29 is the gala premiere and “Cambodian Son” will be released on January 30 in all major Phnom Penh theaters: Legends, Major Platinum (Aeon Mall), and Platinum Cineplex (Sorya Mall).

“Cambodian Son” Kosal Khiev Filmmaker Masahiro Sugano and Producer Anida Yoeu Ali. (KT Photo: Sotheavy Nou)

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