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One Movie Punch

Jan 11, 2018

Today’s movie is “First They Killed My Father” (2017), based on the memoir of the same name by Luong Ung, a Cambodian survivor of the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge. Angelina Jolie co-wrote the film with Luong Ung, a long-time friend, and produced and directed the film with the help of her Cambodian-born son, Maddox Pitt-Jolie.

The story follows Luong’s family’s departure from Phnom Penh after the Khmer Rouge overthrew the military dictatorship backed by the U.S. government, and in response to the secret bombings of rural areas within Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Seeking to hide their previous privilege and association with the dictatorship, Pa Ung (Kompheak Phoeung) guides their family out of the city, moving from village to village.

The film is told through the eyes of Luong Ung (Sreymoch Sareum), only five years old at the time. Sreymoch’s performance has an eerie stillness that exemplifies the clever, observant child. However, Jolie’s direction and editing compliment Sreymoch’s performance with chaotic montages of Luong’s attempts to understand everything happening around her. The same techniques also establish and reinforce the relationship between Luong and her father.

“First They Killed My Father” (2017) is not only a film about Luong’s life, but serves as a visual gateway into one of the most brutal regimes the world has ever seen. From the exodus to the work camps to the child soldier camps to the Vietnamese invasion, Luong’s unique perspective also contains a commonality with the experiences of other Cambodians. The most difficult part of the film for me were the child soldiers, their training and their actions, but I also found one scene in particular quite breathtaking towards the end, as civilians are fleeing in the middle of a Khmer/Vietnamese shooting conflict, right into a mined area.

Jolie and Luong set out to tell Luong’s story and find immense success. I found myself wanting to find out more about Luong’s life, and to dive deeper into her life prior to the Khmer Rouge. I think the only slight weakness in this film is that in doubling as both a Luong biopic and an overview of the Khmer Rouge occupation that neither gets the viewer’s full attention, and coming in at over two hours, most viewers would lack the patience to do justice to both. All that being said, it is still a marvelous film and worthy of high praise.

Rotten Tomatoes: 89% (CERTIFIED)

Metacritic: 72

One Movie Punch: 8.4/10


“First They Killed My Father” is rated R and is currently streaming on Netflix.