Life After Pol Pot: The First Movie- My Mother Is Arb

Following the defeat of Pol Pot’s Democratic Kampuchea in 1979, Cambodian cultural life began also slowly to be rebuilt under the PRK. Khmer people had always had a deep-rooted love for the cinema- with hundreds of movies made in the 1950’s and 60’s, which became popular in countries like Thailand.

Cinema was popular during ‘the Golden Age’ post-independence

Movie houses in Phnom Penh were re-opened in the early days of the PRK, firstly screening films from Vietnam, the Soviet Union, Eastern European socialist countries and Hindi movies from India. Certain films that did not fit with the politics of the time, such as Western cinema and Hong Kong action movies, were banned until the late 1980’s.

The First Movie

My Mother Is Arb (Khmer: កូនអើយ ម្តាយអាប, Kon Aeuy Madai Ahp or Kaun aey mteay a b, literally, Child, Witch Mother, also Krasue Mom) is a Cambodian horror film, directed by Chan Dara Thy released in 1980, and the first movie made in Cambodia after the Khmer Rouge were toppled.

This Khmer folklore-based movie was produced shortly after the fall of the Democratic Kampuchea regime of Pol Pot. Cambodian cultural life had been all but obliterated during the 1975-79 genocide, with much folklore and storytelling suppressed.

This movie returned to the roots of traditional popular legends (and somewhat strangely, given the era, a horror story). It became an immediate success with the Cambodian public, who were still suffering from the legacy of the Khmer Rouge and facing more challenges as society was beginning again, albeit under difficult circumstances, in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea.

The Legend

Kon Aeuy Madai Ahp is based on a Cambodian myth about a malevolent spirit called Ap or Arp. This spirit has a female head and bloody entrails instead of a body. It hovers over the ground in the night, haunting places and scaring people. The special effect of the Arp character was achieved by gluing pig’s entrails to the head of a doll.

The word អាប (Ahp/Aap), derived from a Sanskrit word आप्यति (āpyati, “to cause anyone to suffer”). Ahp in Cambodian folklore, is usually a woman who is half spirit and half-mortal. During the daytime, they appeared to look like normal human beings but during nighttime they ascended, leaving their mortal body with only their head and their organs, gravitating to find food. They were believed to feast on smelly things; blood, raw meats, villager’s farm animals, corpses, feces, placentas, newborns, etc. Their weaknesses are thorns and guard dogs.

In order to protect pregnant women and their child from becoming victims, their relatives place thorny branches around the house as a barrier. This improvised thorny fence discourages the Ahp from coming to suck the blood and causing other suffering to the pregnant woman. After delivery, the woman’s relatives must take the cut placenta far away for burial to hide it from the Ahp. If the placenta is buried deep enough the spirit would not be able to find it. It is believed that it would bring great calamities to the child and it’s family if the Ahp ate the mother’s placenta

The Plot

The film’s story is about a young boy who lived alone with his mother in a big spooky old house in a remote location. One night, by chance, he discovers his mother’s well-kept secret and he realizes that she is the evil spirit Arp.

After that night, the boy lives in terror. He becomes afraid that his mother will kill him any time, but pretends that he does not know his mother’s secret. The boy wonders what will become of him in the future, living with malevolent Arp under the same roof and what will happen if the secret becomes known and he hears everyone say: Your mother is an Arp

A Review

The young man lived with his mother in a remote mansion. When he accidentally discovered that his mother was not a human, but a flying evil spirit, he also pretended to be ignorant and prayed silently that his mother would not hurt him. However, when the villagers learned that the monster was around, could the mother and son be in peace?

This Hitchcock-style bizarre film is the first Cambodian film after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. It is based on the local folklore of Arb at night. It looks like ordinary people during the day. Every night, the head is separated from the mother’s body and flies out for food. (SOURCE)

Adapted from WIKIPEDIA entries.

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