No easy answers in morally complex 3.50

No easy answers in morally complex 3.50
Stills from the movie 3.50 starring Eunice Olsen

Do not expect 3.50, the Singapore- Cambodian production about the trafficking of women in Cambodia, to offer easy answers or clear-cut heroes and villains, says one of its makers.

Eunice Olsen, who is the lead in the film and one of its producers, says that while official corruption plays a part in the trade of girls in a booming sex industry, the film does not demonise the authorities.

"The policemen are not portrayed as bad persons. It would be easy to go, 'Oh, the police know what goes on out there.' But what we found out was there are police who work with organisations who are trying to stop the practice. That part of the story is not well known to people," says the former Nominated Member of Parliament. She became involved in the issue of sex trafficking after visiting a Cambodian women's shelter in 2006 after being appointed goodwill ambassador for Christian relief organisation World Vision International.

The film, which opens on Saturday at The Arts House, has Olsen playing a documentary film-maker looking into the case of a girl who is abducted from her village and forced into the sex trade.

There are several Cambodian characters in the drama, each with his own reasons for being involved in the trade, reflecting the complex moral nature of the situation, says Olsen, 36.

A story that simplifies the issues into a feel-good ending or that uses black-and-white characters would be misleading.

The non-government organisations (NGOs) involved in stopping the trade and giving a fresh start to the girls and women rescued from the brothels had asked her not to be "irresponsible" in telling the story, through omission or exaggeration.

"It takes a lot of work and rehabilitation on the part of the NGOs to get these girls back on their feet so they don't return to the industry," she tells Life! in a telephone interview.

She conducted research with the NGOs, even going to prison to meet jailed pimps, 60 per cent of whom are women, she says. Her research fed into the script by Justin Deimen. Eysham Ali co-directed the work with Cambodian helmer Chhay Bora.

A Cambodian co-director was necessary because the film was shot entirely in that country and a Western- or Singapore-centric focus had to be avoided.

"We wanted to be culturally sensitive because we wanted it to be as real as possible, and also the characters speak Khmer. Bora is very passionate about the issue as well," she says.

Olsen says she started the ball rolling in early 2012 when she travelled there to do research. Cameras began rolling later that year. The film premiered here in October last year.

The film has yet to open in Cambodia. The authorities there have not given the film a rating, despite a wait of several months. Olsen declines to speculate on the reasons for the wait. All the necessary approvals had to be obtained for the production, so officials there had seen the script and was aware of the subject of the film, she says.

"I suppose it might take us a bit of time to get the rating, but we are hoping we will get it soon because a lot of people there want to watch it."

Book it

3.50 (PG13, 106 minutes)

Where: The Arts House

When: Saturday to May 4, various times. Post-screening panel discussions will be held on Saturday and May 3

Admission: Tickets at $10 from


This article was published on April 9 in The Straits Times.

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