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A Perfect Soldier cover photo

A Perfect Soldier 2011

Highly Recommended

Distributed by Cinema Guild, 115 West 30th Street, Suite 800, New York, NY 10001; 212-685-6242
Produced by Jonathan Lacocque
Directed by John Severson
DVD, color, 88 min.

Sr. High – General Adult
Asian Studies, Cambodia, Khmer Rouge, Landmines

Date Entered: 11/28/2011

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, formerly with Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

In 1976, six-year-old Aki Ra became a child soldier in the Khmer Rouge. His parents were executed. In order to survive as a soldier, Aki Ra killed those he was ordered to kill and learned to lay landmines. When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia in 1979, Aki Ra was recruited to fight against the Khmer Rouge, becoming an expert at laying and defusing mines. Mine layers typically survived six months to a year before being maimed or killed. In the early 1990’s Aki Ra escaped the war by hiding out in Siem Reap. He eventually opened a museum near Ankor Wat to house the landmines he had defused and removed from the surrounding countryside. As his museum became successful, Aki Ra married and began to adopt orphaned children maimed by landmines. He trained many, including his adopted children, to defuse and remove mines. It is estimated that Aki Ra defused and removed more than 50,000 landmines 1995-2005.

His successful museum led to Aki Ra being recognized by the Cambodian government which sent him to a landmine safety course in London in 2005. Following his certification, Aki Ra became associated with a new official museum built in 2007, the Cambodian Land Mine Museum and Relief Center. Aki Ra continues to train teams of landmine removers at the new museum.

Most Cambodians that survived the Khmer Rouge suffer from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and many more were physically wounded in the wars or later from landmines. Aki Ra himself is deeply troubled, haunted by his service with the Khmer Rouge. Aki Ra’s personal mission is to help his countrymen to understand what happened under the Khmer Rouge through the museum and through training landmine removers. In 2010, Aki Ra was named one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes.

Filmmaker Severson enables Aki Ra to tell his own story expanded by interviews with his family, a war psychologist and historical experts. Superb editing by producer Jonathan Lacocque blends these narratives with still photos and black and white footage to complete the story. English subtitles for Khmer speakers work well, though some heavily accented spoken English may be difficult to understand at first viewing.

A Perfect Soldier is highly recommended to those interested in Cambodia, Southeast Asian history, and the continuing legacy of the Khmer Rouge.