Films on Southeast Asia



American Experience - Vietnam - A TV History - Cambodia and Laos (Documentary, 55min.)

The film starts with corporate propaganda and commercials.

A simplified picture of the situation in Cambodia and Laos of the 1960s is drawn. The Communist forces in north Vietnam are (falsely) blamed being a threat for the USA. The US allegedly supported neutral Laos against the Communists. John F. Kennedy is shown, giving a speech in which he lies: "All we want is peace, not war". In fact, the Kennedy administration paved the road in Southeast Asia for the American Vietnam War. In Laos, the CIA then allied with general Vang Pao and the Hmong People more or less behind him. Recruiting kids and forcing the Hmong to fight for US interests, triggered immense and until now lasting long-term misery for these people. A ten years old boy is shown in uniform with an automatic rifle and handgranades at his belt, fighting for corporate America.

When the focus shifts to Cambodia, a number of false informations on Angkor are given. Then, Cambodia's egomaniacal crook king Sihanouk is put in place. Several statements of Sihanouk are to see who show very well what kind of guy he was. Sihanouk was then ousted by a CIA-backed coup who brought general Lon Nol in power, who was supported by the USA and willing to enter the Vietnam War on their side. Sihanouk, then in exile in Beijing, appealed to his countrymen to join the Khmer Rouge to fight the new government. Now, chaos was perfect. The US meanwhile carpet-bombed Cambodia and turned more and more of the Khmer peasants into Red Khmer. In Kampong Cham two members of parliament were killed by an angry mob. They were butchered out and their livers grilled on the market place. That is not an uncommon thing in Cambodia and gives a lively insight into Khmer mentality and their very culture. Next, soldiers of Lon Nol killed a hundred unarmed peasants for revenge. Khmer loves Khmer. Khmer also used the chance to start killing many Vietnamese who lived since many generations in Cambodia. We see also president Nixon lying, lying, lying: "There are no American combat troops in Cambodia". Henry Kissinger, sometimes given the illustrious nickname 'The Butcher of Cambodia', is seen in interviews. Even the US embassy in Phnom Penh coordinated, against all international conventions, US secret bombing in Cambodia. More lies come from leading US military officials. At the end stood the conquest of Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge and the spontaneous evacuation of the 2,000,000 people living there at the time. Cannibalism happened. One of the Khmer Rouge victors was young Hun Sen, now long-time primeminister of this miserable country. It's all a very dirty story, from all sides and, as they say, the first victim of war is always the truth.

Interesting is not so much the narrative, but the original film documents of the time.


Cambodia: The Day After

A patchwork movie with many TV and lots of Khmer Rouge propaganda sequences from the 1970s. Some short interviews with Khmer Rouge victims. Comments partially in English and French. Not much information or hard facts. Available at youtube. 65min.

Chutt Wutty - Death in the Forest (Report, 18:45 min., May 2012)

A 'dateline' (Australia) report on the circumstances of the unsettled killing of the Cambodian environmentalist Chutt Wutty, who opposed and organized resistance against illegal logging in Cambodia. Chutt Wutty was shot dead by Cambodian Military Police.

"What happens is that we reached the stage in Cambodia, where people get killed for looking at things. And they get killed by government officials, working for an illegal [ununderstandable]." Markus Hardtke, a partner of Chutt Wutty in fighting illegal logging in Cambodia.

I am Chutt Wutty (Documentary, 53:54 min.)

A professional, well-made film on the logging activities of national and international corporations in cronyism with the Cambodian government. Many interviews with local people who are threatened to loose the forests they live since generations in and from, and who are going to be turned from self-subsistence into corporate slavery. Interviews with company managers who explain their point (and usually have not much to say of substance, it's only business, business, business, the modern fetish) and statements of Markus Hardtke, a friend and combatant of Chutt Wutty. Talks with Chutt Wutty's family give also an insight into his family background.

First come the logging companies, followed by agro companies who plant large-scale rubber plantations. In the focus stands charismatic Chutt Wutty and his activities opposing the corporate land robbery in Prey Lang forest and the Cardamom Mountains, and the circumstances who led to his assassination by Cambodian military police. Chutt Wutty didn't take bribes, and he was not to intimidate. He died when investigating a place about two hours from Pursat in the Cardamom Mountains, probably anywhere along the road up to Veal Veng. He was investigating a camp where larger amounts of yellow vine were collected. Yellow vine contains a basic ingredient for the production of metamphetamines.

A highly recommendable film for anyone who is interested what's really going on in Cambodia. Accessible at youtube. It reminds very much to what I saw at my little field trip into the Areng Valley in 2016.

"Globally, one environmental activist is killed each week.
Over the last decade, the rate of killings has doubled."

Enemies of the People (Documentary, 2009)

The film centers on interviews with Nuon Chea, Brother No. 2 of the Khmer Rouge Regime. The interviews were held as a privat project of Thet Sambath, a reporter of the Phnom Penh Post over a ten years timespan. Against all historical evidence, Nuon Chea claims his innocence and says, according to the regime's propaganda "Ours was a clean regime. (...) A peacefull regime. That was our aim, but we failed, because the enemy's spies attacked and sabotaged us from the start." In the course of the filmmaking it lasted three years until he confesses the existence of the orders to kill "enemies of the people".

"Our policy was first to re-educate them to stop... Then we gave them two or three warnings to stop their treacherous activities. Next we required them to present their revolutionary personal history and make a self-criticism. If that didn't work, they would be expelled from the party. If they still could not be corrected, they had to be solved. These people were categorised as criminals. (...) They were killed and destroyed. If we had let them live, the party line would have been hijacked. They were enemies of the people."

The decisions who had to be killed were made by Pol Pot, according to Nuon Chea. Interesting to contrast this statement with that of Pol Pot in his last interview, who claimed he didn't know anything about the murders.

Later, confronted with two murderers of the lower ranks, being asked who ordered the killings of other combatants, Nuon Chea explains that the killings didn't come from Cambodians, but from the USA and Vietnam. He encourages the killers then that they did the right thing and they should be proud on their bloody deeds. They had no intentions, they only followed orders, he adds. According to Buddha's teachings they would have nothing to fear. "If there is no intention, there can be no sin, you understand?". Interesting argumentation for a leader who's regime also tried to root out anything religious, including the Buddhist tradition in Cambodia. However, one of the killers remains doubtfull about his future rebirths and shows honest signs of regret. Nuon Chea therefore is clearly a hard-boiled.

Included are interviews with Khmer Rouge murderers in northwest and east Cambodia. They go to the sites of their crimes and talk about their deeds, the killings of hundreds of people. Since all the leading Khmer Rouge claim total innocence and ignorance about the mass murder, Thet Sambath is going from the lowest level of executioners up the ranks of who gave the orders.

Many women played a crucial role in commiting murder and giving orders to kill. The role of women in crimes against humanity is usually very much downplayed. Women are not less brutal than men, not in Cambodia nor anywhere else. One of the women interviewed here is very self-confident and still claims that she did absolutely the right thing to order many murders.

Also, these interviews underline the thesis that the Khmer Rouge were an ultranationalist movement; it's repeatedly stressed that all ethnic minorities had to be rooted out, for they were generally blamed as being traitors.

Interesting is the section of the interviews with the two killers, when they talk about the consumption of human gall. One of them said, he had for a time always a human gall bladder with him. The ministry of health told them, it would prevent from catching dengue fever. He also claims that drinking human gall would cool the body down, for example after having eaten somewhat hot. So, they butchered human bodies out, and that raises the question of cannibalism in Democratic Kampuchea. The medieval Khmer of Angkor had also a strong affinity to the consumption of human gall, as Zhou Daguan reported in the 13th century.

It's clear, Thet Sambath sympathises with Nuon Chea. The mistake of the Khmer Rouge was not merely, as he says, that they committed the murders. The whole project of so called Democratic Kampuchea was thorougly criminal. The new ruling class of the time had no concept, no idea of Communism or political theory, so far I can see. They were just a bunch of bandits comming in power after a bloody, US-initiated civil war which threw the country, what was until 1970 in a half-way reasonable shape, into total chaos.

However, only someone like Thet Sambath could carry out such interviews, as much as only a Nazi like Oskar Schindler could rescue 900 Jewish people from the Holocaust industry. Nuon Chea was arrested 2007 in his home in Pailin and brought to Phnom Penh, facing trial in the Khmer Rouge Tribunal.

'Enemies of the People' is a valuable historical document of the happenings in Democratic Kampuchea.

Exploring Angkor Wat - Out and About

An amateurish, superficial 60min. film for superficial people on Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Baphuan, Terrace of the Elephants, Preah Palilay, Ta Prohm, Banteay Srei and finally a journey to the Kulen Mountains. However, the too much marketing nonsense talking narrator goes through the temples and one get's to see much of the sights (and the masses of tourists there, of who he says there weren't many). No historical depth. Merely a shallow view on the surface with permanent appeals to feelings. Besides, the narrator even praises the lousy Khmer food. Everything is amazing, amazing, oh, so amazing... It's all very American.

Kampot Adventures by Drone (4:54 min.)

Kampot and surroundings by drone. Very well made. Producer is 'MyAirControl'. Youtube.

Kein Land, kein Leben

Ein lahmer Film der Welthungerhilfe ( und des deutschen Bundesministeriums fuer Wirtschaftliche Zusammenarbeit und Entwicklung zum Thema Landraub in Kambodscha.

Landgrabbing in Kambodscha

Ein Film von (2015) ueber die brutalen Machenschaften des Hun Sen Regimes in Kooperation mit internationalen Konzernen (wie bspw. der Deutschen Bank).

Pol Pot - Secret Killer (Documentary, 44:35 min.)

A (mostly political) summarizing biography of Pol Pot, Brother No. 1 of Democratic Kampuchea. Much historical film material from the 1970s is shown.

Selling the Killing Fields (Documentary with Jenny Kleeman, 2009)

A reportage on land eviction in Cambodia, the brutal practices of companies who hire thugs to get people out of their homes in cooperation with Cambodian police and military police. The deputy mayor of Phnom Penh is shown saying the overtaking of the land is all legal and there would be better places provided for the people by the government. Lies, lies, lies... From the companies side there is no one in responsibility to speak - typical for Cambodia, these people never give statements. Pretty well shown are also the living conditions of Cambodians who live in incredibly filthy slums. All the bad diseases appear in the slums, dengue fever, typhus, diarrhoea anyway and much, much more... The only few available toilets in a slum shown have been built by a Singaporean investor and their use costs money.

At the end of the film the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek are shown. They have been leased out by the Cambodian government to a Japanese company who is running the site now, making it a profitable business. Everything is for sale in Cambodia.

Siem Reap Vacation Travel Video Guide

Another touristic film on Angkor's sights with shallow informational input. Tonle Sap Lake is introduced, any critical approach completely avoided. A brave, new, marketing world, we are living in. It's all nice here in Cambodia. Made in America. No year of publishing given.

The Last Interview with Pol Pot

Confronted with his crimes at the end of his life in Anlong Veng, Pol Pot appears as a soft, reasonable man. As all political criminals he didn't intend anything bad, he didn't know what was going on, he didn't want to come in power (his party comrades forced him into power), he was never a violent man (as a young man he was studying the civil-rights movement of Mohandas Gandhi in India against the British empire, as he says), in short words: Pol Pot was completely innocent. He asks himself the rethoric question: "Am I a violent person?" and gives himself the answer: "No - athei". 'No' is generally the most frequent word in Khmer language. "So, as far as my conscience and my mission were concerned, there was no problem." Khmers never have problems. It's a perfect country for full-scale ignorants here. Pol Pot was just a typical Khmer. Many Cambodians are still talking very much in favour of this man. The interview happened at April 2nd, 1998.

Pol Pot was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Democratic Kampuchea. The film lasts 7:15min. It's available on youtube.


Jungle Gremlins of Java - Natural World (Documentary, BBC, 2011)

One follows Dr. Anna Nekaris from London into the last patches of tropical rainforest in Java to see slow lorises in the wild. Talking to a native village chief, he calls the slow loris 'kukang' and warns of it's poison, calls it more poisonous than that of snakes. These villagers used the blood of slow lorises and smeared it on the blades of their machetes. When hitting an enemy with it, he will be poisened.

A trial is done; a basket is prepared with food and there are some drops of the toxic oil of a slow loris applied on it. A Malayan sunbear get's the basket in it's cage. The bear is very attracted by the food, but smelling the poision, it makes a repelling sound and turns away from it.

Slow lorises are a rare exception of a poisonous mammal in nature.

The film ends with a stroll over Jakarta's notorious animal market. One could make a long list of the endangered species who are sold here. A surprisingly large number, 22, of slow lorises are found on this market, which has the recommendation of being the biggest of it's kind in Southeast Asia. Dealers say, they would get new ones every week. They come from Java, Sumatra and Borneo. The conditions for the animals are terrible, mistreatment is normal. The tropical rainforests, not only in Indonesia, are ravaged.

It appears also, that the little animals fight each other. It's shown at one instance in a cage. Males fight sometimes males, females fight occasionally females. And the fights are dangerous. They go for each others heads, and a poisonous bite can be fatal for the bitten one.

Too many tricky film effects who have nothing to do with the topic. Looks sometimes unnatural, too artificial. The music is also not always appropriate, beside there is too much of it and it's too loud.

Kala Benoa (Documentary, 2015)

On the tourist development and natural destruction in Bali / Indonesia.

Merapi Volcano Eruption 2010 (Amateur Documentary, 7min.)

We see smoking Merapi in a first phase from Kaliurang, then being very smoky in November 2010. The devastation area between the drainout canal from the peak and Kaliurang is shown in a 'fresh' state. Also a completely destroyed village in the pyroclastic flow zone is to see. Another approach is from Selo. A team of scientists goes up from there to Pasat Bubrah, the plateau below the peak respectively crater, while the eruption is ongoing. That was possible, because the flow drained into the opposite direction. Well-done self-made film, found at youtube.


Orangutan - Orphans of the Forest

A 1976 documentary of the work of a Swiss team in the orangutan rehabilitation center in Bukit Lawang. You find it here: 'Orangutan - Orphans of the Forest'.

Wettlauf nach Ostindien (Dokumentation, 43min. Erzaehlt von dem theatralischen Maximilian Schell)

Die Geschichte der Befreiung der Niederlande von der spanischen Krone und der Gruendung der VOC (Vereinigte Ostindische Kompanie) 1602 als erste Aktiengesellschaft. Die VOC brach nach Ostindien (heute Indonesien) auf zur Erringung des Monopols im Gewuerzhandel. Gleichzeitig sollte das spanische Handelsimperium dadurch entscheidend geschwaecht werden, um Spanien die Mittel fuer den Krieg gegen die Niederlande zu entziehen. Da die Niederlaender aber nicht die ersten Europaeer in Ostindien waren, mussten sie ihr Monopol mit Gewalt durchsetzen.

1619 wurde Batavia (heute Jakarta mit ca. 20 Millionen Einwohnern) die Gruendung der VOC als zentrale Niederlassung in Suedostasien. Das Zentrum der Begierde, die Molukken, lag jedoch noch viel weiter oestlich. Hier war die Quelle der Muskatnuss, ein Gewuerz was damals in Europa Spitzenpreise erzielte. Das niederlaendische Regime auf den kleinen Inseln war nicht wohl gelitten, und auf der ertragreichsten der Inseln, Banda, kam es zu einer Rebellion, die von den rivalierenden Englaendern zumindest mit ermutigt wurde. Beamte der VOC wurden von Einheimischen erschlagen. Die Rache der Hollaender kam schnell. Eine Flotte erreichte die Insel und nahm grausame Rache fuer die Revolte. 45 Haeuptlinge wurden gevierteilt und ihre Leichenteile auf Bambuspfaehlen praesentiert. Die gesamte Bevoelkerung der Insel wurde umgebracht oder deportiert.

Der Konflikt zwischen den aufstrebenden Kolonialmaechten England und Holland wurde schliesslich beigelegt in einem Tauschgeschaeft. Die Englaneder erhielten Neu Amsterdam, welches dann Neu York (New York) wurde, waerend die Niederlaender die Molukken zugesprochen bekamen.

Das niederlaendische Muskatnussmonopol wurde schliesslich gebrochen durch einen franzoesischen Pfarrer, dem es gelang, Muskatnusssetzlinge aus den Molukken auszufuehren und in Mauritius erfolgreich anzubauen. Am 31.12.1799 ging die VOC pleite und Ostindien wurde eine Kolonie der niederlaendischen Krone.



Little Dieter Needs To Fly (Documentary, 1997, by Werner Herzog)

The life story of Dieter Dengler and particularly the story of his caption by the Pathet Lao, the time as prisoner of war and his escape from the Laotian jungle prison east of Thakhek close to the Vietnamese border. Dieter Dengler was an American war pilot in the American Vietnam War and shot from the skies in 1966. The story was made later also a Hollywood movie by Werner Herzog: Rescue Dawn.

As often, the music in the film appears very inappropriate; Herzog estheticises war. Music, particularly in documentaries, distortes the audience's feelings.


The most Secret Place on Earth | The CIA Covert War on Laos (Documentary, 2008, 53min.)

Laos is the most bombed country in the history of air warfare. The American Vietnam War was planned long before it started. The US Army built a whole military infrastructure in southeast (Pattaya) and northeast Thailand (Isan). They also built the soon becoming largest airport in Southeast Asia already in 1962: Long Cheng. Long Cheng was top secret, and appeared on no map. Even the US congress didn't know about Long Cheng. Laos in the 1960s and 1970s became the playground for experiments of all American air wars since then. What we saw and see in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lybia, Syria and what will follow, has been first exercised in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. Shock and awe...

Long Cheng also became a center for heroine production and a hub for drug distribution. A few years after the American Vietnam War started, over 30% of the US troops were heroine addicted. They brought the drug in large amounts into the US. Heroine from the Golden Triangle became a substantial factor for financing the war, and the CIA evolved to be the largest drug producer and dealer worldwide.

It's also shown how the Hmong People, a northern hill tribe, was brought on the American side. General Vang Pao allied with the CIA and forced many of his people into the war, often against their will.

As always, we find also the hardboiled war criminals who, even after decades, are proud on their evil deeds. It's transferred all-too often from generation to generation. They do that, because they have 'to pay their bills', of course. Now they make America 'great' again.

In May 1975 the Communist Plathet Lao fighters captured Long Cheng. Shortly before, the CIA had evacuated the airbase.



Birds More Malaysia Borneo (Documentary, 57:21 min.)

An amateur video of an elder American travelling tourist couple. It starts in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur, then goes to the Malaysian west coast and up to the Cameron Highlands, followed by Temana Negara National Park. Next part of the film leads to north Borneo, Mount Kinabalu. Many more birds. Snakes, orangutans, lizards, wild boars, deer, leeches, even a blooming Rafflesia is shown.

One gets to see a lot of birds and the names are told. Pretty well made. Although it's all handheld, the film is of good quality. Supposedly the makers have profound, maybe professional knowlegde on birds (Hand Held Video Production by Rigdon Currie; Led by Keith Valentine and Eric Forshyth of Ruckjumper Birding Tours). Youtube.

Expedition Borneo / BBC/Discovery Channel (Documentary, 2006, Three Parts)

Follow a professional team of biologists into the rapidly shrinking tropical rainforests of Borneo. A great documentary of the life in the area with the largest biodiversity on earth. One scientist is bitten by a small cobra, and another is catching a python at the edge of a village, for it has to be relocated. It was killing chickens from the villagers, and soon they would find out where the python hides and kill it. A fully grown python can reach a length of eight meters. Gibbons and Orangutans inhabit the forests and can be observed from platforms high up in jungle trees.

It comes also with an expedition into the fast growing green deserts of palmoil plantations. These poor monocultures allow not much more life than rats and snakes, together with a few insects like flies and mosquitoes.


Buddha's Lost Children (Documentary, 2006, 97 min.)

Abbot Khru Bah Neua Chai Kositto is introduced as one of the last travelling monks in north Thailand's Golden Triangle. He spents his time with abandoned and orphaned children, teaching them Muang Thai (Thai Boxing), animal husbandry and social skills. Khru Bah is roaming with his disciples every year for nine months on ponies through the isolated mountain villages of Thailand's northern tribal people, who are traditionally opium farmers and live in empoverished conditions. Nevertheless, the tribal people give daily alms to the monk, following the old Buddhist tradition, earning merit. The village life around Khru Bah's monastery at the Golden Horse Statue is shown and described. It's the very old, traditional livestyle still alive here.

The depiction of a traditional Buddhist monk's life stands in stark contrast to what we see nowadays in Thailands totally commercialized and often decadent temples. This here is a sane community, in which the people care for each other and the children learn social and technical skills, they learn to become mentally strong and self-confident. They learn virtues and a scale fore the difference between good and bad deeds. They get well prepared to live their life. A rare example in our times.

"If you gain a position of influence,
one day it will disappear.
If you receive honors,
one day those honors will fade.
Popularity is just like a straw fire,
so, when you get the chance,
you should take that brightness,
and make the poor places,
the dark places, bright."

Khru Bah

Mega Fish | Thai Eden (Semi-Documentary, National Geographic, 44:16 min.)

It's about the big sweetwater fish in Thailand, and it's said that no country in the world is that rich in big fish than Thailand is. That is certainly not at last because of the richness in biodiversity of the Mekong River. However, the actions of the protagonist in the film seems to be rather semi-professional. Also the seventeen years old Thai youngster who breeds South American stingrays introduces himself as a rather superficial guy. He has an exotic hobby and just too much money... The import of fish from other parts of the world is desastrous when they are introduced into the Southeast Asian nature and being invasive species. They would have no natural enemy and do a great harm by preying around. There are, of course, precedences of that. Nevertheless, it's done and there are American breeders introduced, for who that is great business in Thailand. Sport fishing is good business, end of story, doesn't matter any consequences.

A fish transport is shown from a pool in the countryside to the aquarium of Chiang Mai. The giant catfish almost die - no fun to see that... It's American, and it seems for them the world is nothing but a great show. It's all hollow marketing, and at the end it's not about the fish or any living being, it's just another way to make two dollars out of one.

The Big Picture: Thailand (1950s, 23:38 min.)

US Army propaganda film on the expansion of the Thai military infrastructure. It's about the fight against Communism by the self-declared 'free world'. Interesting to see that the American military fought already malaria and was very optimistic about their success. Malaria is still, in the 21st century, a major problem and no improvement in sight. They also fought already against bird flu, here namely the 'liver flu disease'.


1950-54 Vietnam - The First Indochina War
Indochine - A People's War in Colour (Documentary, Discovery Channel)

The first half of the film deals with the French colonial empire in Indochina of which Vietnam was the central part. Implications of the Second World War in Southeast Asia are explained.

The middle part of the film focuses on the French trial to reconquer Vietnam from 1946 on. Interesting to hear that the French already used napalm in the warfare. The famous battle of Dien Bien Phu is described in some detail.

The last minutes give insights in the phase of the establishment of the Communist government in north Vietnam and some events there after the war.

Extraordinary film material, all in colour. Many scenes show a young and charismatic Ho Chi Minh. Quotations of Vietnamese combatants and witnesses enrich the documentary. Very worth to watch.

Southeast Asia

Project Baraka - Ron Fricke (Voiceless Movie, 1992, 1:13:55)

A movie which lives from it's very impressing pictures. Historical sites, landscapes, weather and other natural phenomenons and peculiar rituals are shown, underlied by music. It's not exclusively showing Southeast Asian places, but many. Sites of Angkor Archaeological Park are shown, magnificent Borobodur, Bromo-Tengger-Semeru National Park. The pictures are switching around unsystematically; later it goes to 1960s Phnom Penh and S-21 is shown after Auschwitz. The music seems inadequat, aesthetisizing misery.

Asienreisender Up to the top!

Published on December 29th, 2016

296 | Films

Last update on February 5th, 2017