Lay Nguong Heng: Tip Soda Chan (Cambodia 1968) Review
Am I the only one who starts to wonder where he is going to spend his evenings once the retrospective of old Cambodian films from the 1960s and 1970s at the Golden Reawakening exhibition in the Chinese House in Phnom Penh is over?
The number of old ladies in Pajamas accompanied by their many grand children from the neighboring shanty towns seems to grow every evening, and they are the most attentive audience to these old movies.
Tip Soda Chan begins in a heaven, with some goddesses frolicking around in a set made out of plywood, that has bucolic landscapes in 2D painted on it. One of them, Tip Soda Chan (again: Tit Vichera Dany), becomes aware of the sad plight of some earthlings, that are exploited by a rich and powerful landowner.
Out of pity, she goes to earth to help as an angel. (In case you are wondering, why there is a heaven and angels in a movie from a Buddhist country – as many of the other tales that the Khmer directors from the 1960s based their movies on, this one also seems to come from the Hindu religious cosmos.)
Once there, she falls in love with one of the oppressed, Veasna (again: Kong Sam Oeun). They get married, but the landlord has his eyes on the beautiful Tip Soda Chan, and keeps going after her. The scenes of abuse and repression of poor peasants by a rich master are so powerful that even the Khmer Rouge showed this movie in their work camps as a reminder of how it was before the revolution!
When Tip Soda Chan is about to deliver her baby, the couple flees to the country side. Once the boy is born, Tip Soda Chan is summoned back to heaven, and Chean stays behind with the baby. He mysteriously transforms himself into a martial arts fighter, who takes revenge with the landlord, before accepting the fact that mortals and angles are not meant to stay together.
The fighting scenes that show traces of the Hong Kong wuxia movies – that by that time had gone through the school of the Spaghetti Westerns – are a painful reminder of how immature film making was in Cambodia in the 1960s. While the lack of resources, experience and training has its own charm and occasionally results in riotous cinema such as Ly Bun Yim´s 12 Sisters, the Cambodian films of the 1960s generally do not succeed if they try to incorporate elements from international genre movies, that are simply out of their league most of the time.
Once Tip Soda Chan shows the wonderous world of the Gods with Bengalic fire and other wounderous spectacles, the movies is back at what it does best.