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Bokator is the traditional martial art of Cambodia. High flying and tons of actual techniques, Bokator can catch the viewers eye with flash. The sport hails from the same region that’s brought you Muay Thai and Lethwei. But the art is struggling and having trouble surviving after the Cambodian genocide of the late 70s. It’s that struggle that is the topic of the documentary titled Surviving Bokator. The movie has been received fantastically and has nabbed several awards at film fests. Check out the trailer below before we dive in to the review on the documentary!
The documentary starts explaining how Bokator got to the current state with the Cambodian genocide that took place from 1975 to 1979. 1.5 to 2 million Khmer citizens died in the genocide until Vietnam invaded and toppled the regime. In that time, anyone seen as a threat to the regime in power was killed, including most of the Bokator masters. Surviving Bokator shows where the art is at today and the struggles it’s face to face with, specifically extinction.
Surviving Bokator: The Good
Surviving Bokator is a masterpiece of a documentary. Those fortunate enough to see it will see just how desperate the Khmer people were following the genocide and how Bokator struggles. It follows mainly the story of San Kim Sean, a Bokator master, and two of his students, Darith Ung and Tharoth Sam.
Fans of ONE Championship will recognize Tharoth Sam from a few of their shows from 2014-15 in mixed martial arts, the first Khmer woman to compete in the sport of mixed martial arts.
One of the things I liked from the documentary is the true showing of the state of Bokator. Surviving Bokator did not paint a rosy picture of happiness for the sport. The film makers showed the hardships the sport is going through, namely with leadership. While San Kim Sean his grand expectations, he’s not followed up on some of the promises he’s made to others in the region on supporting the others helping him on his mission of growing Bokator back to its prominence in the country. I really appreciate the filmmakers not making Sean some superhero for trying to bring back Bokator. Instead they show his good intentions and his downfall as a human, which really puts the viewer in the shoes of those in the film.
But it’s not all grim and gloom for Bokator. We see the successes San Kim Sean has as well. From his goal to get Bokator recognized by UNESCO to placing in a martial arts competition in Korea, Surviving Bokator does a good job showing that while the art is struggling in certain areas, it’s still got some great growth in recent years.
The Bad of Surviving Bokator
I’ll be quite honest. There’s not much bad about Surviving Bokator. Any complaint I do have is a bit nit picky and of no real important relevance to the film.
For example, Tharoth Sam was shown to live in poverty around the filming of the documentary and only having Bokator. But the film failed to show that she was already a professional mixed martial artist by then, having turned pro in 2014, and making her ONE Championship debut that same year.
This isn’t to say that Tharoth and Darith both didn’t live in a very poor area of the world. But the message I received was that Sam had nothing before Bokator and knowing the fighter, she’s actually competed in martial arts for some time.
Again, that’s really nit picky and doesn’t spoil the movie for you. Tharoth Sam and Darith Ung’s story is very much real. Don’t discount that for one second.
Surviving Bokator Rating: 9/10
Surviving Bokator is damn near a prefect documentary. Immediately from the text in the beginning to the credits rolling, the film had me captivated and hooked into the story of a struggling martial art looking for a breath of air.
While the film isn’t widely available to the public yet, put this one on your watch list regardless. It’s a fantastic story with culture, highs and lows, and a great sport that any fan of martial arts is sure to love. That’s why Surviving Bokator gets a 9 out of 10 on the score rating. It’s message is beautifully delivered and doesn’t hold punches for the viewer. You see the highs and lows of the resurgent art in Cambodia.