Visal Sok is one of Cambodia’s leading film directors, his repertoire including Gems on the Run and Poppy
Goes to Hollywood. What’s more, he is the founder of the effortlessly cool music production company
KlapYaHandz which has made music for many Cambodian artists including Sreyleak. Trendz caught up
with Visal to chat about his career and plans for the future.
How did you get into filmmaking?
I guess, filmmaking was always a childhood dream. There’s an anecdote that tells me why I’m doing what
I am now; when my mother was pregnant with me, her waters broke in the movie theatre!
I was born in France in the 70s and grew up there in the 80s. There were two experiences that changed
my life. It was the end of the 70s and my parents took me to watch a movie, somewhere in France. It was
the 1933 King Kong. It was the first time I’d watched a film in my life. It had a big impact on me.
The second was watching a Cambodian horror that was playing at someone’s house somewhere in
France. Since then, I’ve been in love with fantasy films, horror and supernatural stuff. The 80s came and
with it films like Blade Runner, Alien and Spielberg movies. All these things were fresh and creative back
I’ve always been artistic; I drew a lot, I created a lot. When I came back to Cambodia, every opportunity I
had I would be filming with a camera. After years of working on sets of TV commercials and TV series, I
got into producing TV series, shooting music videos and eventually making films.
Music is a big passion of mine, but film was always something I wanted to do.
Was it difficult in Cambodia to break into the film industry?
There was no movie industry really. In France and America, people say it’s hard to break into the
industry, but here there wasn’t one. As the country progressed, the production industry started to get
bigger and bigger.
I think the industry, with real, contemporary films started about 5 years ago. Before that, it was just
people trying to make films for the local cinema or for DVDs. There was only one feature film been made
every 3 to 4 years. When the first proper cinema opened in Cambodia, that’s when producers started to
be interested in making films- they had a place to show and exhibit them.
You mentioned the films you loved when you were younger. Is fantasy film something you would like to
I always thought my first movie would be a horror or fantasy, but I got into comedies because it can be
the easiest way to make your first feature film.
The first comedy I made because a friend approached me and said, ‘let’s make a film together’. He had
been making another film which was a struggle and very personal, so he wanted to make something more
My second film, Poppy [Poppy Goes to Hollywood], was a drama/comedy too. It’s good that the first film I
made wasn’t a fantasy, I’m still learning.
Is there a next film in the pipeline?
Yes, it’s called ‘In the Shade’. It’s a supernatural drama. It’s been in my head for 12 years and we’ve been
working for the past 6-7 years with a screenwriter and are on the ninth draft of the script.
You said 5 years ago there was a surge in the Cambodian film industry, what brought this about?
One of the biggest triggers was a cinema being built. For filmmakers and directors, having a cinema is
finally having a proper place to show movies.
Cambodian’s have always loved art, we love music. But, the Khmer Rouge did something which made us
forget about these things. Fortunately, the love came back.
You have to rebuild everything from scratch. You have to rebuild the cinema industry, but you also have
to rebuild the audience. Audiences were not used to going to the cinema. Do you know how noisy it was
going to the movies five years ago? Everyone was talking or on their phone; you could have a fight in the
theatre because people were talking all the time. We’re rebuilding audiences and film watchers now. It’s
Do you think the Cambodian film industry is in an exciting place?
It is. For the past year, I’ve seen a lot of exciting things going on in the music and film industry. The
government has been supporting the film industry for the past year. I believe it’s going become bigger and
bigger every year.
Back in the 70s there was a big film industry, people were making some really cool things. Cambodian’s
only watched Cambodian films. The goal now is to make better Cambodian movies. At the moment, young
people prefer watching Hollywood movies because they’re better made and it’s worth the money.
What would you say is, of what you have created so far, you proudest achievement?
Both film and music are important to me. My first feature film that I made with my friend called Gems on
the Run, was our first movie that we made and produced. It came out in only 3 cinemas because there
wasn’t much of an audience back then.
But, somehow the movie became a cult movie to those who watched it. It was a film that came out that
was different to other films. The actors that we had in that movie became pretty famous. From that movie,
we had two big music hits. The music was more famous than the film. This is the one I’m most proud of.
At the same time, we didn’t make any money, we lost a lot of money. If this had been made in France or
America and the music had accompanied it, I would be a millionaire right now!
What’s next for you?
Last year I took time off to shoot movies, Poppy and In the Life of Music. In the Life of Music is a
Cambodian/American production coming out next year. My next project is ‘In the Shade’, which is
hopefully starting to shoot next year.
On the music side, we’ve just signed new artists this year. We’ve been producing songs in the past few
months and have released about 15 new tracks. From September onwards, we’re going to be shooting
music videos, which is fun.
BY: LARA GOODWIN