Director: Chhay Bora, Eysham Ali
Cast: Eunice Olsen, Oun Dyna, Leang Honglee
RunTime: 1 hr 46 mins
Rating: PG13 (Some disturbing scenes)
Released By: The Arts House
Opening Day: 1 – 4 May Weekdays: 7.30pm; Weekends: 3pm & 7.30pm Post-show Q&A with the film's creative team on 3 May, 7.30pm $10; $8.50 (Conc.) Tickets from bytes.sg
Synopsis: When a young Cambodian village girl is sold off into prostitution, a brash American documentarian ventures into the underbelly of Phnom Penh to pursue her story, as she crosses paths with various other lives affected by the unspeakable terrain of the country’s sex trade. Inspired by real events, 3.50 is a dramatic thriller that tells the story of a brash documentary filmmaker, Rebecca, who stumbles onto the story of Jora, a 15-year-old village girl who was sold into prostitution. Rebecca investigates Vanna, the cruel female pimp that operates in the lucrative virginity trade, where young girls are sold off to the highest bidders. Venturing deep into Phnom Penh’s sex industry with reckless abandon, Rebecca spirals into a trap with deadly consequences. 3.50 is a multi-layered story that follows a foreign journalist, an underground doctor, a tuk-tuk driver, a street peddler, and a prostitute as they navigate the socio-economic tensions that allow poverty and its problems to flourish. Filmed in English and Khmer, 3.50 is the first feature film co-produced between Singapore and Cambodia.
If you have visited our neighbours in the region, it’s no surprise that these Southeast Asian countries are (this writer hates to use this word, but here goes) infested with non-Asians (read: our friends from the “West”). It is of this columnist’s view that they enjoy visiting countries like Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar because everything seems oh so exotic.
Okay, we digressed. The above point was raised to illustrate how convenient it is to insert a “Western” character in a movie set in “our” part of the world. The recent Malaysian movie The Journey by Chiu Keng Guan comes to mind. And we are sure images of “Westerners” walking around in a forested/ rural/ crowded area in Southeast Asia can be easily conjured in your head. While this is not the main point we are trying to raise in this review (maybe we’ll get another opportunity another day), it is exactly the same setting the filmmakers have set up for this drama thriller.
Directed by Cambodian veteran film-maker Chhay Bora and Singaporean Eysham Ali, the heroine is an American documentary filmmaker (there you have it, a “Westerner) who goes deep into the dark alleys of Phnom Penh to rescue a young village girl sold into prostitution. She crosses paths with other characters whose lives are affected by the country’s virginity trade.
The title “3.50” comes from the interesting but sad fact that many young girls are bought and sold for their virginity - $500 to $800. This is because many men believe that having sex with a virgin has some miraculous effect of curing them from AIDS. What’s even more alarming is that, after a young girl's virginity is taken by these men, sex with her can cost as low as $3.50.
Bet you didn’t know such a thing is happening outside your comfortable home, did you? This 107 minute film has very good intentions of increasing awareness about human trafficking in the region, with some very powerful social messages told through the various characters, including an underground doctor, a tuk tuk driver, a street peddler and the prostitutes whose lifestyles we can only imagine in our part of the world.
Above all these, we have the American documentary filmmaker played by former Nominated Member of Parliament Eunice Olsen, whom we believe is an apt choice to play the role. While she brings nothing groundbreaking to a character that we’ve seen in other movies (a “Westerner” visiting a poorer part of the world to change things for the better), the fact that Olsen was an ambassador for aid group World Vision lends a certain impact to the story. It also helps that she is a former Miss Singapore Universe, so the character does come across as someone who is genuinely interested to save the poor girls from human trafficking.
But we all know how movies work. We walk out of the theatres, eager to go back to our comfortable lives, checking our Facebook and Whatsapp to feel connected. Do we really care about the dire situation out there? We do not want to speak on anyone’s behalf, but we believe you know what the filmmakers of this well intended production want you to do.
(A well intended production with powerful social messages)
Review by John Li