Tea Lim Koun: A Chey Neang Krort (Cambodia 1968) Review
The second film by Tea Lim Koun, screened as the final movie of the Golden Reawakening event on Sunday at the Chinese House in Phnom Penh, could not be more different from his pan-Asian success The Snake Man that was the first feature presentation of the day.
A Chey Neang Krort is a rowdy comedy that had the Cambodian audience in stitches with puns and wise-cracks that are more or less untranslatable. The Khmer language is full of metaphors, and most of the punch lines in this often gross burlesque are based on the possible misunderstandings this allows for.
Chey (Mang Doline), somewhat of a village idiot, is in love with Neang Krorot (Map Noya). Her parents accept his proposal, negotiated by Ta Kranh (Loto), but ask him to work for them for a year. It turns out to be a bad idea, since Chey gets wrong everything he can possible get wrong. He kills their cow, is unable to sell its meat, almost massages his father-in-law to be to death, gets into a fist fight with the priest during the wedding, inadvertently beats up his father in law again, and all hell breaks loose, when the family tries to get him to perform during the wedding night. The last reel of the film is missing, so it is not clear how ordeal of the family ends.
Like German prankster Till Eulenspiegel, Chey wreaks havoc by taking literal everything he is told. Unlike the German trickster, who often challenged the authorities of his time by playing the fool, A Chey Neang Krort is void of any such subversive ambitions and simply aims for belly laughs.
Despite the somewhat simplistic story, Tea Lim Koun again proves to be a confident story teller. Unlike The Snake Man that is characterized by its fantastic settings and situations that often have been shot in a stylized studio setting, A Chey Neang Krort has been shot predominantly on location and en plein air, which gives the film a bucolic atmosphere. While The Snake Man must have been one of the most sophisticated (and costly) productions of the period, A Chey Neang Krort is a low budget production in comparison.
Despite not working in the studio, Tea is in full control of his story and his mise-en-scene, and even creates some scenes of purely visual comedy – for example a shot of the father-in-law dangling on a string a mouse and cockroach that he got in exchange for his cow. The wedding that turns into a punch fest with priests is particularly well-shot and shows montage techniques – such as parallel and rhythmic montage – unavailable to the other Khmer film makers of the time. If there was a master craftsman in the Golden Age of Cambodian cinema, it was Tea Lim Koun.