Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Restored Cambodian classic 12 Sisters to see ‘historic’ screening in Phnom Penh

Restored Cambodian classic 12 Sisters to see ‘historic’ screening in Phnom Penh

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
A screenshot from 12 Sisters, which will be shown in its original format tonight for the first time since before the Khmer Rouge. Photo supplied

Restored Cambodian classic 12 Sisters to see ‘historic’ screening in Phnom Penh

Exactly 50 years ago, the Cambodian film industry was propelled forward by the release of Puthyisen Neang Kong Rey, or “12 Sisters”, by iconic director Ly Bun Yim. It was one of the first local films shot on 35 millimetre film, not 16mm, and it used daring special effects in a way the Kingdom had not seen before – showing a flying Pegagus, gory eye-gouging and a dramatic earthquake. The story follows the hardships of the dozen sisters, who suffer from sins committed in past lives.

Between 1960 and 1975, Bun Yim produced more than 20 films. But when Cambodia fell under the rule of the Pol Pot regime, almost all of his works were lost. Just three are known to remain in usable condition today – “12 Sisters”, Sobasith and Orn Euy Srey Orn.

“Before 2012, we only have the poor quality image film of ‘12 Sisters’ that people can see if they go to Ly Bun Yim’s house and ask him to show the film on the TV,” said filmmaker Davy Chou.

Fortunately, that year a higher quality 35mm print of the film was found at the house of Bun Yim’s son, Dawish D Nil, in Norwalk, California, though it was a version dubbed into Thai.

Director Ly Bun Yim at his home last week.
Director Ly Bun Yim at his home last week. Heng Chivoan

It was sent to Berlin to be screened in the Forum program of the Berlin Film Festival, with English subtitles.

“At that time, the people were so happy to see the film . . . After the event people asked whether or not they can screen the film, but the director of the Forum . . . said the film is too fragile so we should keep it and wait for the restoration,” he said.

Not wanting to risk further damaging the print, it was left in a temperature-controlled laboratory – at minus 18 Celsius – in Berlin.

There it sat for four years waiting for restoration. In 2016, it was digitised into a high-definition format by Nobukazu Suzuki, a Japanese archivist who has worked to preserve Cambodia’s trove of old films. It was then screened in Japan with dubbed Thai audio and Japanese subtitles.

“I think it took only one week [for him] because it is not restoration but a digitisation,” Chou said.

Last year, Kyoto University, in association with the Japan Foundation and with the assistance of former Bophana archivist Lim Sophorn, worked with Bun Yim to re-synchronise the Khmer audio into the film, which was later screened again in Japan.

Tonight at Chaktomuk Theater, “12 Sisters” will be showing in high definition in Cambodia for the first time, with Khmer audio re-synchronised and English subtitles added by the Bophana Center. The screening is part of a special tribute to the director in which the festival will show all three of his remaining movies. For Chou and the many film buffs working behind the scenes, it’s a moment years in the making.

“I hope we will have a house full of young people,” he said. “For me, the screening of this film is historic.”

“12 Sisters” will be showing tonight at Chaktomuk Theater at 6:30pm, in the presence of director Ly Bun Yim. “Khmer After Angkor”, or Orn Euy Srey Orn, is showing Thursday morning at Bophana Center at 10am.

MOST VIEWED

  • Diplomatic passports issued to foreigners to be annulled

    The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation will move to annul diplomatic passports issued to those not born in Cambodia. Analysts say the move may be in relation to reports that former Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra used a Cambodian passport to register as

  • The hairy little heroes saving many lives in rural Cambodia

    IN RURAL Siem Reap province, rats dare to tread where no person will, as these hairy little heroes place their lives on the line each day for the good of the local community. The rodents are the most important members of a special team, leading

  • Hun Sen warns Irish MP of EBA ‘mistake’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday told former Irish premier Enda Kenny, still a member of the EU nation’s parliament, that the 28-nation bloc should not make a “third mistake” regarding Cambodia by using the preferential Everything But Arms (EBA) agreement to “take 16 million

  • Hun Sen’s China visit ‘a good opportunity’

    Prime Minister Hun Sen’s visit to Beijing on Sunday to discuss economic and trade issues presents a good opportunity for the Kingdom to strengthen Chinese ties and counter punitive measures by the West, an analyst says. The prime minister’s four-day official visit to