Cambodia, 1975. As the war in Vietnam comes to a close, the uprising of the Khmer Rouge is just beginning. And the events that follow will forever change the lives of the Cambodian people - including a young girl named Loung.
First They Killed My Father is a 2017 film based on the alike-titled autobiographical account of Loung Ung, adapted for the screen by herself and director Angelina Jolie. Born to a Cambodian army captain, Loung and her family were forced to leave their home in a coup and put to work in a labor camp, ultimately leading to her being trained by the rebels as a child soldier. The film is performed by Cambodian actors in their native Khmer language; it debuted locally in February 2017, and was distributed worldwide by Netflix in September of the same year.
This film provides examples of:
- Based on a True Story: The film is directly based on Loung Ung's memoir of the same name. She also co-wrote the screenplay with Angelina Jolie.
- The Cavalry: By the end of the film, the Vietnamese forces have arrived to take out the Khmer Rouge and evacuate the refugees.
- Child Soldiers: The Khmer Rouge conscripts and trains numerous children to fight for them, including Loung Ung. Though when the Vietnamese start attacking, she wisely chooses to flee for her life instead of fighting at all.
- Curb-Stomp Battle: The poorly armed, poorly trained Child Soldiers that the Khmer Rouge pits against professional PAVN forces break ranks after an artillery barrage, and end up triggering their own landmines during their retreat.
- Dirty Communists: The Khmer Rouge, oh so much. In addition to working people to death and recruiting Child Soldiers through propaganda, they also kill anyone they deem a threat by the millions. Averted with the Vietnamese who while not guilt free, are here to put an end to the Khmer Rouge, and are shown to protect Cambodian refugees.
- Eagleland: Type 2. The film opens with some actual footage of the Vietnam War, interspersed with the voice of President Richard Nixon justifying American military presence in neighboring Cambodia. This presence largely consists of dropping bombs on Cambodian soil (ostensibly to thwart invading Viet Cong) and killing civilians in the process, which becomes one of the prime factors in the rise of the Khmer Rouge against the Cambodian government, and is used as their excuse for "evacuating" the capital.
- Earn Your Happy Ending: After being ejected from her home, separated from her family, forced to work for starvation rations, turned into a child soldier, and surviving several clashes with the Vietnamese, Loung is finally reunited with her sister and three brothers, and liberated from the Khmer Rouge. But it's also a Bittersweet Ending: their parents, eldest sister, and youngest sister don't survive, and the fighting won't end for another fifteen years.
- Enemy Civil War: One erupts between the Khmer Rouge and Communist Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War.
- Eviler Than Thou: The Khmer Rouge to the Vietnamese, who saw their former allies as untrustworthy, and that their system of communism wasn't ideal and didn't align with theirs. This ultimately becomes part of the reason that an Enemy Civil War between them erupts.
- Hope Spot:
- The citizens of Phnom Penh celebrate when the Cambodian army announce the leaving of U.S. troops, and call for reunification. Only for the Khmer Rouge to arrive soon after and forcibly relocate everyone.
- Luong and her family have found a refugee camp run by the Vietnamese troops, The next day the Khmer Rouge attack the camp, killing several Vietnamese soldiers and Cambodian refugees.
- Language Fluency Denial: After noticing how nice Dad's wristwatch is, a Khmer Rouge soldier deduces that he worked for the ousted government. He then proceeds to goad him by speaking in French (a useful second language to military and government officials at the time); he in response repeatedly claims to not understand what the man is saying and asks him to please speak in Khmer. As the soldier can't definitively prove anything, Dad gets out of the situation no worse off, at least for the time being.
- Massive Numbered Siblings: The Ung family has seven children, Loung being number six. By the end, only five of them remain.
- People's Republic of Tyranny: Democratic Kampuchea, to which Cambodia is renamed following the Khmer Rouge takeover, quickly becomes this, with the new regime systematically killing millions, and plunging Cambodia into massive famine.
- War Is Hell: The film revolves around the genocide and war crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge during the Cambodian Civil War, and the protagonist's family are not spared from their brutality.