First They Killed My Father

First They Killed My Father Information

First They Killed My Father ( Moun dambaung Khmer Krahm samleab ba robsa khnhom) is a 2017 Cambodian-American Khmer biographical historical thriller film directed by Angelina Jolie and written by Jolie and Loung Ung, based on Ung's memoir of the same name. Set in 1975, the film depicts 7-year-old Ung who is forced to be trained as a child soldier while her siblings are sent to labor camps during the Communist Khmer Rouge regime.

The film screened at the Telluride Film Festival and 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, and was released worldwide on Netflix on September 15, 2017 to positive critical reception.


During the Vietnam War, the United States military begins bombing the neutral country of Cambodia, commencing the Cambodian Campaign. The U.S. then pulls out of Cambodia and evacuates its embassy. A Lon Nol officer, Ung, known as "Pa" to his seven children, including 7-year-old Loung Ung, expresses regret for having trusted the Americans as the Khmer Rouge draw closer.

The Khmer Rouge forces all families to leave the city, under the pretext that it will be bombed by Americans, and join thousands of refugees. Pa Ung denies working for the government when questioned by soldiers, knowing that he will be killed if discovered. The family is found by "Uncle", Pa's brother-in-law, and Loung's family stays with Uncle's family for some time. However, at the insistence of Uncle's wife, who fears the consequences if Pa's identity is discovered, Loung's family has to leave.

After days of travel they are rounded up by Khmer Rouge soldiers and taken with other refugees to a labour camp, where they have to build their own shelter and are forced to work under harsh conditions. Their possessions are confiscated, food is scarce as all crops are sent to fighting units, and any attempt to get more food is punished with beatings. Loung is a witness to her siblings' beatings as they try to get more food for themselves and their family.

Aside from hard work, the camp preaches the regime propaganda, and any foreign items (including life-saving medicine) are forbidden and carry a death penalty. Loung's two oldest brothers and oldest sister are re-assigned to other camps, and soon afterward her sister dies from sickness and starvation.

One day Loung sees Pa taken away by the officials to repair a bridge. Knowing what awaits him, he says goodbye to his wife and children. Later, Loung has a dream in which she sees him murdered and buried in a mass grave.

Soon afterward, Ma tells Loung, her brother, and her older sister to flee in different directions and seek new work camps under false names. Loung and her sister separate from their brother and reach another camp.

There, Loung is recruited to be a child soldier for the Khmer Rouge. The Vietnamese have invaded Cambodia, sparking the Cambodian-Vietnamese War. Loung learns hand to hand combat, shooting, and preparation of traps, and works on laying mine fields against the Vietnamese. Children are constantly taught propaganda and hatred of the Vietnamese, but they get more food and are treated better than workers in the labour camps.

One day Loung gets a pass to visit her sister in the labour camp, but instead she travels to the camp where her mother and youngest sister were left behind. She finds their hut empty, and an old woman tells her that her family was taken away by the soldiers. That night Loung dreams about her mother laying dead in a mass grave with her youngest sister left next to her corpse to die.

Loung's camp is attacked by the Vietnamese, and she flees with other children and labour camp workers. On the road she reunites with her brother and sister. They join a group of other children in a temporary refugee camp, but when it is attacked by Khmer Rouge soldiers they flee for their lives. In the resulting chaos, Loung is separated from her siblings and ends up in a minefield that she herself helped to create, and which is now killing and maiming the escaping refugees.

The three siblings are reunited in another refugee camp which is run by the Red Cross. There Loung sees people beating a captured Khmer Rouge soldier. She sees him as her father and flashes back to the violence in her life. As she cries out, "Pa", to the man, the aggressors disperse. Loung looks at the beaten man and walks away.

As the war ends, Loung and her younger siblings are reunited with their older brothers who also survived the camps. The movie ends with all the children in present time, praying with the monks for their lost family members at the ruins of a Buddhist temple.


  • Sreymoch Sareum as Loung Ung
  • Kompheak Phoeung as Pa Ung
  • Socheta Sveng as Ma Ung
  • Sreyneang Oun as Keav
The film uses Cambodian actors and filmed in the Khmer language of Cambodia.


On July 23, 2015, it was announced that Angelina Jolie would next direct a film adaptation of the memoir First They Killed My Father by Loung Ung, for Netflix, for which Jolie and Ung co-wrote the script. Jolie would also produce the film along with Rithy Panh, while Jolie's son Maddox Jolie-Pitt would be an executive producer.


Principal photography on the film began in early November 2015 in Siem Reap and wrapped in February 2016 in Battambang, Cambodia. Filming also took place in Phnom Penh.


Critical response

On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 88% based on 65 reviews, with an average rating of 7.8/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "First They Killed My Father tackles its subject matter with grace, skill, and empathy, offering a ground-level look at historic atrocities that resonates beyond its story's borders." Metacritic, another review aggregator, assigned the film a weighted average score of 72 out of 100, based on 21 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews".

Matt Zoller Seitz of gave the film four out of four stars, stating that it was Jolie's best work as a director yet, made without any compromise to its "journalistic" storytelling. He noted that "[t]he ace in Jolie's deck here is the knowledge that a girl as young as Loung can't comprehend the larger meaning of what's happening to her, and is therefore unlikely to expend precious emotional energy connecting cause-and-effect dots or lamenting what was lost. It's an almost entirely experiential movie." He later named it the second best film of the year, behind Lucky, stating that it is "[o]ne of the greatest films about war ever made, as well as one of the best films about childhood.... I can't imagine a frame of this film being better, only different."


The film was selected as the Cambodian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film for the 90th Academy Awards, but it was not nominated. It was the first time a prominent American director's non-English film was submitted since the Academy set a rule in 1984 that a country's submission has "artistic control" from a "creative talent of that country"; Jolie has dual citizenship with the U.S. and Cambodia.

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) and nominee(s) Result
British Academy Film Awards 18 February 2018 Best Film Not in the English Language Angelina Jolie
Camerimage 11"?18 November 2017 Bronze Frog Anthony Dod Mantle
Cinema For Peace Awards 19 February 2018 Most Valuable Film of the Year First They Killed My Father
Critics' Choice Movie Awards 11 January 2018 Best Foreign Language Film Angelina Jolie
Golden Globe Awards 7 January 2018 Best Foreign Language Film
Hollywood Film Awards 5 November 2017 Hollywood Foreign Language Film Award Loung Ung, Angelina Jolie
National Board of Review 28 November 2017 Freedom of Expression Award Angelina Jolie
Online Film Critics Society 28 December 2017 Best Foreign Language Film
Satellite Awards 10 February 2018 Best Foreign Language Film
Women's Image Network Awards February 2018 Best Foreign Language Film

See also

  • List of submissions to the 90th Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film
  • List of Cambodian submissions for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film

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