The son of the snake, an erotic Cambodian symbol
There is currently an authentic explosion of the Cambodian cinema and it can open the doors to a new golden time for national filmmakers, as it was before the wars of the 1970’s. Cambodians have the talent, creativity and willing to produce their own movies and, with a best investment and support from national and international sponsorship, it is possible to guarantee a successful film industry in the Kingdom of Wonder. However, all these national productions go unreported either inside or outside Cambodia. There is a lack of film criticism, an element that is very important to discuss about what we watch and create.
Cambodian artists, directors and scriptwriters still in anonymity and it is something we need to discover, to translate films in foreign languages and to support critics with access to the press in order to give an input to what we call Cambodian filmography.
In cinema we have the opportunity to look into the intimate of a culture and society, especially if the creation is done by the same people. We are not watching a movie about Cambodia, but a work done by Cambodians with their mentality, religious elements, cultural traditions and conflicts, the values they have in account in their families, political structures, love, hate, wars, peace and ambitions.
A movie that keeps a good connection with these elements is the sequel Keng Kang Snake (ពស់កេងកង) or The Snake King’s Child (កូនពស់កេងកង), a 2001 work of Sound Studio Broadcasting (SSB) and Hong Meas Production, directed by Phai Somang and considered a bi-national creation with Thailand. It seems also as a characteristic of the Cambodian filmography a tendency toward the tragedy where destiny plays a very important role in social relations. In Cambodian movies, as well as music, the lovers do not end together with an ensuring kiss and promise to stay like this forever in happiness and success. The antagonists of every story are deep rooted in strong and closed traditions such as the person the protagonist loves must be strictly approved by the parents, who show themselves as master of the destiny of their sons and daughters. The Cambodian religion syncretism, superstitions and witchcraft can alter the course of a love-story with unexpected endings.
In Keng Kang Snake, for example, starred by Thai actor Winai Kraibutr, Pich Chan Bormey, Ampor Tevy and Tep Bendaro, the love of Mek (Winai Kraibutr,) the son of a snake and Noun (Ampor Tevy,) a girl that is obliged to marry a man she doesn’t love, ends in a dramatic dead of Noun and Mek taking her dead body as a Romeo and Juliette scene, without any hope for love.
The Keng Kang snake is a Cambodian myth of the jungles. A god snake (probably a naga) gets in love with a woman married to a man, which house is in the middle of a forest. But the man is absent most of the time, doing business far from home and coming to see his wife few times at the year. Once the woman, whose name’s Ny, lost the machete of her husband inside the cave of a huge king cobra. She is afraid of her husband because the machete is very precious for a couple surviving in the jungles. The cobra promised to return the machete if she loves him and she accepts.
Since then, every night, the cobra visits Ny at her home until she became pregnant. When her husband realizes she is pregnant and becomes suspicious since he is absent most of the time, he comes one night without telling her to see whose man visits her, when he sees the cobra. Early morning he follows the cobra to his cave and killed Keng Kang, bringing the meat home. Unexpected, Ny thinks her husband brought meat and prepares a soup. When she is eating at the side of her husband, a parrot shouts ‘Look at that woman, eating her own husband.’ Ny realizes late what her husband has done with Keng Kang and began to cry. The man then takes her near the river and kills her, opening her womb from which one several baby cobras come out entering the water.
The movie adapts the legend quite well, though it is a sequel, since Ny seems to survive in this film version and one of her sons is a normal human, Mek. Ny becomes a snake taking refuge in the cave, while her son brings her food and both cries out their fate. Mek doesn’t know that if he lost his virginity, he will become a snake like his mother. He also pays respect to the tomb of his father, Keng Kang, in the jungle.
Mek tries to live a normal life in the village at the house of his cruel aunt, who reminds him that he is the son of a snake. He gets in love with Noun with the opposition of her father that wants her to marry a man he considers a real human. At the end the Noun’s father obliges her to marry, even knowing that Mek and Noun did a private marriage celebration in the jungle, with the unfortunate consequence of becoming a snake. Running to the cave, crying his fate, her mother offers her life to turn Mek a normal human, but the conversion keeps him with a Medusa view: several small snakes in the place of his hair. Wearing a turban, he runs to the village to try to stop Noun from marriage, but villagers expelled him out of the village and, at the sight of his snaky hair, they ran away from him.
Noun fights back her new husband. Mek becomes a huge cobra and enters the room every time the man tries to touch her. She and Mek keep doing relations until she gets pregnant. The husband realizes it and things go the same way as in the legend, except that Mek is not killed by the man, but he kills Noun, opening her womb full of baby snakes.
A parallel story tragic history takes place in the same village, this time with witchcraft: Saya is a beautiful orphan girl taking care of her younger sister, but she suffers unwilling transformations in the night when her head and part of her internal organs fly out of her body and looks for cow meat to eat. Although she is practically inoffensive, villagers are afraid and look all the time for the witch for execution. Kom, a handsome young man gets in love with Saya, but he is shocked when he knows what happens to her girlfriend. Even his love is so strong and the young sister begs pardon for her sister, the only relative the kid has, the villagers set Saya in fire…
The movie was also the first big production after the troublesome times after 1970 and a great test of special effects.
Snakes are very much present in the Cambodian culture, from the ancient animism to Hinduism and Buddhism, snakes are associated with dragons and spirits of good, but also it can be evil. But certainly it is an erotic symbol: if a girl dreams with snakes, they believe her wedding is near:
‘In various cultures, actually, the snake connotes sexuality. In Cambodia, for instance, dreaming of a snake is a premonition for marriage…….’