The Cambodian science fiction move Karmalink, which won awards on its film festival debut last year for its intriguing mix of high-tech mystery and Buddhist philosophy, has released a new trailer ahead of its North American release next month.
“In near-future Phnom Penh, a teenage boy teams up with a street-smart girl from his neighborhood to untangle the mystery of his past-life dreams,” a synopsis on the website of executive producer Valerie Steinberg explains. “What begins as a hunt for a Buddhist treasure soon leads to greater discoveries that will either end in digital enlightenment or a total loss of identity.” (Valerie Steinberg)
Directed and co-written by Jake Wachtel, Karmalink’s story is set in the Cambodian capital Phnom Penh, and sets out to explore the intersection of the Buddhist themes of karma, reincarnation, and enlightenment with the consciousness-altering implications of augmented reality and artificial intelligence, as well as the growing disparity between rich and poor.
The main plot follows a 13-year-old boy, Leng Heng (Leng Heng Prak), and his friend, Srey Leak (Srey Leak Chhith), who live in a crowded, dilapidated community on the outskirts of Phnom Penh of the near future.
Heng has been having a recurring dream about a golden Buddha statue owned by various people who he believes to be his past incarnations. Heng enlists the help of Leak to untangle the links between his dreams and the aspirations of a prominent neuroscientist to attain digital enlightenment via nanotechnology in order to find the truth and discover their own destiny.
According to Wachtel, he had been pondering ideas about reincarnation and implanted memories for several months, but they only gelled in his mind into what would become the basis for the Karmalink screenplay during a 10-day silent retreat in Cambodia.
“I came out of that meditation retreat feeling like, whoa, I really like this idea now and want to put everything into it,” Wachtel said. (The Hollywood Reporter)
California-raised Wachtel had been teaching a year-long course in filmmaking to disadvantaged children in Phnom Penh in 2014, as part of the Filmmakers Without Borders initiative. Inspired by the community and the culture he was living amid, as well as Kazuo Ishiguro’s dystopian science fiction novel Never Let Me Go, Wachtel sketched out a story in which children were having memories implanted in their minds.
Wachtel wrote the two lead characters specifically with his two favorite pupils in mind: Leng Heng Prak and Srey Leak Chhith, both of whom had grown up in Phnom Penh’s Tralop Bek neighborhood, which provides the film’s backdrop.
“Lang Heng is the consummate dreamer with his head in the clouds who wants to help people, while Srey Leak is a head shorter than everyone else but tough as nails and kind of has this really serious attitude,” said Wachtel. “I think the light-bulb moment was realizing that that she would play the detective, that she was the Cambodian version of Sherlock.” (The Hollywood Reporter)
That the young co-lead actor Prak has died since the movie’s production (Karmalink is dedicated to his memory) lends the film a particular poignance, given its subject matter.
Karmalink is Wachtel’s feature-length directorial debut after one short previously. The screenplay is co-written with Christopher Larsen and produced by Valerie Steinberg, Sok Visal, and Jake Wachtel. The film is scheduled to be released in theaters and video-on-demand services in Canada and the United States on 15 July.
Karmalink – Official Trailer (2022) | Cambodian Sci-Fi Film (YouTube)
Karmalink (Valerie Steinberg)
Venice Hidden Gem: Buddhism and Sci-Fi Converge in Cambodian Mystery ‘Karmalink’ (The Hollywood Reporter)
New Trailer for Buddhist Sci-Fi Mystery ‘Karmalink’ from Cambodia (FirstShowing.net)
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