‘Poppy’ Tests the Limits of the Cambodian Movie Market

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Sok Visal’s new movie will be the first backed by Puprum Entertainment, which hopes to bring Khmer films to the masses. 
 
When the adventure comedy film “Poppy Goes to Hollywood” hits Cambodian theaters today, and Lao and Indonesian theaters in the next few weeks, its progressive plot won’t be the only thing pushing boundaries in the local film industry; the movie is a test of the regional and international appetite for movies made in Cambodia. 
 
In the film, which is directed by Sok Visal, a young homophobic man named Mony lies, cheats and lands himself in debt with the wrong people. His only hope for help is his transsexual brother, who he hasn’t talked to in years–a partnership that ends up with Mony taking a dive into his brother’s world. In the process, his prejudice and misconceptions of the LGBTI community are challenged as he grows closer to the rag tag group of friends.
 
The plot and subject matter is a challenging one for a local market that is usually dominated by low-budget horror films. Nonetheless, it will be the first movie in Cambodia distributed by Puprum Entertainment, a brand new distribution company aiming to elevate the Khmer film industry. 
 
Puprum – whose name is a mash-up of Ta Prohm and “Pou”, the word for uncle – is a partnership between the two biggest players specializing in the distribution of local and foreign films in Cambodia – Sabay MVP and Westec Media Limited.
 
The project kicked off just two months ago, with Visal’s movie as its target premiere.
 
According to Chy Sila, the head of Sabay, both his company and Westec have experience distributing Hollywood films, after years bringing international films to Cambodia. Up until now, films made locally are usually self-distributed, resulting in an array of scheduling obstacles that delay release dates. 
 
The joint venture is supported by Cambodia’s ministries, film directors, film producers and the censorship board. They all agreed that Cambodia needs a local distributor to make the process easier for film production, Sila says. 
 
The aim of Puprum Entertainment is to enhance the quality of Khmer films. Sila says that, because Westec and Sabay also own cinemas in Cambodia, they are in a unique position to act as distributors. First, they hope to up the artistry of the films.  
 
“Sometimes the quality of the movie is bad, the acting, the script,” he says. “That’s why we hope any movie selected by Purprom will meet certain levels and criteria before we are willing to invest in the marketing and promotion [of the film]. We want to set a standard in the local movie industry to reach a certain quality so not only does it reach Cambodia’s cinemas but also other countries, internationally.”  
 
Chy advises all filmmakers to submit their scripts to the censor board before going into production, so that the film can be approved for release in cinemas. This process will also allow Puprum to select the possible films for distribution and promotion early on, and will allow them to make suggestions about how to make the films more appealing to audiences for commercial success.     
 
Chy says that he hopes the company will be able to bridge the gap between the more artsy films that end up on the festival circuit and the often low quality films targeting commercial success. He suggests arthouse filmmakers can produce commercial movies to support their pet projects. 
 
“It’s like having a good piece of art hidden in your room,” Chy says of some films, “and when you are ready for an exhibition, you only talk to 10 people.”
 
He hopes that “Poppy Goes to Hollywood” will strike that balance, and get the visibility that it deserves. “The script is written very beautifully and in a way unique to the Cambodian family,” Mr. Chy says. “That is quite a unique concept for the Cambodian market.” 

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