I Am Super Student shows a side of Cambodia rarely seen on film. There are no pristine shots of Angkor Wat, sleepy village scenes or Buddhist monks. Instead, audiences are shown a dark aspect of modern life in Phnom Penh: the reality of drug addiction among teens.
And for young actor Rous Sophea, who is something of a heartthrob in the country, descending (in character role terms) from an “idol” to a drug addled youth was a refreshing change of pace.
“After being in Khmer Idol and promoting it for one year, I was tired of having the sweet goodie-goodie clean image. I felt like I was an unreal cartoon character and was always told what to do,” Sophea told the Phnom Penh Post, adding that he drew inspiration from Trainspotting, Danny Boyle’s 1996 film about heroin addicts in a gritty part of Edinburgh in the 1980s.
Across the globe in Phnom Penh, I Am Super Student, a US$100,000 production by Fx Entertainment, shows us teenagers drifting in and out of dilapidated flats, inhaling drug smoke through straws and acting out the dramas associated with addiction – a persistent problem in Cambodian society. For more details on I Am Super Student, visit here, and visit here to view a trailer.
The filmmakers enlisted the help of anti-drug organizations and Calvary City Church of Cambodia, which “believed in the project from the start and were a great partner to work with,” the film’s line producer Allan Cheung told The Diplomat. “They provided us with a lot of case studies for references when creating the movie’s script.”
An eclectic cast of young stars, acting veterans – including DySaveth, Tep RinDaro and Roline (a transgendered comedian whose voice swings between the masculine and feminine) – combines with direction from Hong Kong to make a film that has been a great success at the domestic box office.
While I Am Super Student has a hard-hitting message, it is delivered with a light touch. All is well at Anajak High School until a dancer – one of the cool kids named Visal – becomes addicted to drugs. To support his habit he descends into a world of crime, shoplifting and running errands for gangsters.
In steps a rookie cop, David, who is given the hardship assignment – a punishment for flirting with too many women on the job – of working undercover at the school, where he poses as a student. He works alongside a fellow cop who is posing as a teacher. Together they try to bust the drug dealers operating in the school. In the end, it is revealed that a trusted adult is responsible for dealing.
“The reactions have been impressive,” Cheung said. “People who had watched the film tell us it is one of the most gripping and funny movie they have seen so far in Cambodia and they say it makes you start enjoying and memorizing the school life.”
Cheung continued, “The teen spirit that runs through I am Super Student should have lent the film a bright and fresh feel. Every little element here, from the story and the setting to the music and the packaging, is an acknowledged new Khmer cinema convention.”
Indeed, the film is not only attracting people to the box office; it is elevating Cambodian cinema to new heights in itself.
“We have worked with an almost completely professional crew from Hong Kong, Malaysia and local Cambodia taking almost one year for pre-production, production and post-production of this movie,” Cheung said. “It has been a struggle. Luckily, audience are all impressed by the quality and moved by the story.”
Cheung added, “Cambodian film quality standards are stepping up with recent production of feature films to discover in theatres. Film festivals that have happened in Cambodia such as ASEAN Film Festival, EU Film Festival, and Cambodia International Film Festival are also a platform of inspiration and exchange that provides exposure for Cambodian filmmakers that constantly seek to create better films.”
I Am Super Student demonstrates that film is being elevated to a more refined platform in Cambodia, this heightened aesthetic sense ultimately serves the higher purpose of exploring a very thorny issue plaguing Cambodian society.
Just how bad is Cambodia’s drug problem? And whom does it affect – mainly those at the margins or those with ample means? We look at this in more depth tomorrow.