Ying and Yang. Salt and pepper. Black and white. Sometimes opposites work great together. Karmalink is a film that features the seemingly opposing thoughts of science fiction and religion operating side by side. Jake Wachtel’s (first feature film) film, which he co-wrote and directed, is a sci-fi film infused with Buddhism. While they sometimes rub up against one another instead of meshing together, for the most part, they co-exist peacefully.

Digital enlightenment. Not sure what that means? Well, in the near future it will be what people attempt. In the city of Phnom Penh in Cambodia, those with money and privilege are able to become augmented with nanotechnology.

A whole other world exists in the poorer area of Tralop Bek. The close members of this community are being threatened with forced eviction. With a distraction on his mind like the strange dreams he has about previous lives, 13-year-old Leng Heng (Leng Heng Prak – first film) and his friends believe that to save their community from being razed due to the construction of another skyscraper they must find a long-buried Buddhist statue.

To help the young group achieve just this they seek the help of a young girl with plenty of street smarts. Srey Leak (Srey Leak Chhith – first film) is from the same neighbourhood and joins the little gang of statue hunters. While following the clues they find all over the community, the youngsters meet a brilliant neuroscientist (Sahajak Boonthanakit), who is attempting to attain digital nirvana.

As his dreams are getting more and more forceful, Leng Heng and his new friend have to decide how far they are willing to go to save where they live as their quest for the statue is becoming more and more perilous.

This is the first sci-fi movie set in Cambodia. Not a bad beginning, either. This is mostly because there is precious little following of tropes or other cop outs to be found in Wachtel’s film. Karmalink (great title, no?) takes risks and they pay off. For the film, filmmaker and viewer. It will make you think about the direction we are going towards with technology. And what we are leaving behind or abandoning in our eternal quest for advancement. Past and future collide here and we are not sure which we want to triumph in the end.

Every inch of the film feels authentic from the locations to the dialogue to the acting. Especially that of the young actors, most of whom have never acted before.

While it feels authentic, at the same time the vision of the director and the story itself feels very original. Reality is infused with dreams without becoming wacky. The importance of spirituality and traditions without hitting the viewer over the head with the message. Strong images of how tough life is for the poor.

Sadly, at the end of 2020, lead actor Leng Heng Prak died.