Tuesday, May 09, 2006

CAMBODIA: Cambodians outraged over Thai film set in genocide jail

Cambodians call for a ban on all Thai products -- the premise of a Thai film depicting horrors of Tuol Sleng lies too close to home, they say

South China Morning Post
Monday, May 8, 2006

By Anne Hyland

Phnom Penh --- Imagine a television reality show set in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz, where ghosts of exterminated Jews haunt the contestants who are vying for prize money of about US$132,000.

In this reality show, the skulls and bones of the dead are smashed to invoke the wrath of supposedly spiteful ghosts to see if contestants can hold their nerve and stay.

While not set at Auschwitz, the producers of a Thai horror film Ghost Game have based their action in a genocide torture chamber similar to Cambodia's S-21 prison.

Also known as Tuol Sleng, S-21 was a former high school used as a prison and interrogation centre during the brutal rein of the Khmer Rouge regime that murdered, tortured and starved to death 1.7 million Cambodians from 1974 to 1979. Tuol Sleng is now a genocide museum. Cambodia's long awaited trial of the regime's leaders begins next year.

The producers of Ghost Game, which started screening in Thailand last month, claim the film is a work of fiction but similarities are blatantly close to Tuol Sleng facts.

Observers said the name of the fictional prison, S-11, bore too close a resemblance to the S-21 prison where about 16,000 Cambodians were tortured and taken away for execution.

The trailer's opening credits reveal that 17,000 people were registered prisoners at S-11 during a four-year war.

The film features piles of skulls and bones inside S-11 similar to those that can be found at Cambodia's genocide museums.

The producers of Ghost Game wanted to film inside S-21 last year but were refused by the Cambodian government. Instead, they used a Thai prison, where signs were changed from Thai to Khmer.

Ghost Game's production company, Tifa, initially denied the film had anything to do with the Khmer Rouge, but later issued a public apology if the film offended Cambodians. Producers NGR said a more detailed disclaimer has been placed on the movie to express "once again our heartfelt apology and express that all locations, activities and persons depicted in Ghost Game are fiction not fact".

The film has outraged Cambodians and calls have been made to ban all Thai products. A leading Cambodian genocide researcher, Youk Chhang, has denounced the film as insensitive and a distortion of history for commercial purposes.

In 2003, Cambodian mobs burned the Thai embassy and destroyed Thai-owned businesses over unfounded rumours that a Thai soap actress had claimed Cambodia's most famous temple, Angkor Wat, belonged to Thailand.

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