I have not seen many sci-fi films made in Cambodia, but there’s no doubt Karmalink will stick in my memory for a long time. This Buddhist thriller, written by director Jake Wachtel and Christopher Larsen, takes place in the near future on the outskirts of Phnom Penh in a community called Tralop Bek. It is where a super train to Beijing is in the making, and the bright neon lights of Phnom Penh hang in the distance as if to remind us the future is near.
Two young teenagers, a girl named Srey Leak (Srey Leak Chhith) and a boy called Leng Heng (Leng Heng Prak), undertake an adventure to find a treasure, which Leng Heng believes exists from his past life as it continues to appear in his dreams. Srey Leak, a street urchin, offers to lead Leng Heng’s adventure. She is very resourceful and cashes in on tech scraps to live. Leng Heng lives with his mother, grandmother, and several children, barely upholding a traditional life and on the verge of relocation for luxury development.
Hitting upon the pitfalls of poverty, reliance on tech, and one’s need for connections to exist, Karmalink is hardly superficial. The storyline, about futuristic mind control through harnessing one’s dreams and filing them away for use in a master plan of life, mixes Buddhist principles and study with technology and an unusual metaverse life existence. Larsen and Wachtel have fashioned an original story. It is part of one man’s need to further his existence via a nonlinear connection by using the dreams of others.
“…Dr. Vattanak Sovann…uses dreams and the ‘Aug’ life to study and create an alternative existence.”
An eerie life of dreams and head wiring leads the adventuring duo to Dr. Vattanak Sovann (Sahajak Boonthanakit), who uses dreams and the “Aug” life to study and create an alternative existence. Enter the dreams of Leng Heng. Dr. Vattanak Sovann is assisted by Dr. Sophia (Cindy Sirinya Bishop), a devotee who has been documenting Leng Heng’s grandmother, who has her own wired headset.
With a small blue-glowing third-eye device, any user who snaps this on their forehead enters a dream world and experiences an “augmented” reality. It’s like a religious dot for the future that needs constant upgrading. Throughout Karmalink, there’s a reference to this activity, much like how people use social media or cell phones. The filmmakers populate their world with Aug cafes and flop houses to feed this sci-fi addiction. In addition, there are earpieces and other devices that seemingly connect people all around, even if they are living in extreme poverty.
What ensues is an adventure of teenage bewilderment and a new understanding of life along with a bizarre peek into the future of neuroscience, especially if in the wrong hands or gone awry. It’s also a fascinating story told in a most unusual setting and style where Cambodia is another character. Although the adventure takes a turn, a treasure is undoubtedly found. Karmalink is worth watching if only to discover an unusual function and purpose of karma, something more and more of us seem to reference in our 21st-century lives.
"…a fascinating story..."