Set in Phnom Penh in a time of protests over urban development and forced relocations, a Cambodian teenager teams up with a street-smart girl from his neighborhood to solve a mystery.
The boy, Leng Heng (Leng Heng Prak), and the girl, Srey Leak (Srey Leak Chhith), are determined to uncover the truth about the golden Buddha that Heng saw stolen from a temple in one of his past lives. He enlists Srey Leak’s aid only after she proves her amateur detective skills by locating his missing flip flop. The two first-time actors are naturals and have an engaging chemistry. Our affection for them grows alongside their burgeoning camaraderie.
But there’s a troubling aspect to Heng’s dreams. He sees visions of a neuroscientist named Vattanak (Sahajak Boonthanakit) who’s experimenting with augmented reality to achieve enlightenment through technological means. The youths’ quest leads them on a magical odyssey as the plot jumps back and forth in time, and soon the lines between dreams and waking reality become blurred.
Cambodia’s first science fiction film considers the philosophical and spiritual implications of loss of identity (from a Buddhist perspective) in a plausible, technologically enhanced future. It’s an imaginative debut from director Jake Wachtel that highlights the struggles of Phnom Penh’s poverty-stricken community and blends it with thought-provoking allusions to the nature of Buddhist spirituality, including concepts of karma and past lives, and the merging of science and metaphysics.
Science fiction, not rated, 101 minutes, in Central Khmer with English subtitles; 7 p.m. Friday, Oct 15, Violet Crown, includes a Q&A with producer Valerie Steinberg