Fulvue Drive-In.com
Current Reviews
In Stores Soon
In Stores Now
DVD Reviews, SACD Reviews Essays Interviews Contact Us Meet the Staff
An Explanation of Our Rating System Search  
Category:    Home > Reviews > Documentary > Genocide > History > Political > Cambodia > Vietnam > S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Documentary/First Run DVD)

S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine  (Documentary)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: B-     Documentary: B+



One of the most stunning documentaries that quietly tells its nightmare story of being inside the living hell of genocide-in-progress is the amazing S21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003), which visits the title location.  In this case, it is the heart of all torture and extermination in Cambodia when the horrific Khmer Rouge left a scar on humanity forever by unnecessarily killing at least two million of the native population.  That figure, which represented 25% of the country’s entire population, actually glosses over the extreme terrorism and torture that occurred!


Victims and those who were soldiers following orders to survive (though many of the perpetrators obviously took pleasure and joy in what they did as in all such police states) are interviewed on location, which is not easy for the victims who were brave enough to be taped for this program.  The pain alone is very difficult to watch, but revisiting the systematics that humiliated and slowly destroyed the lives of these peaceful, innocent people in a once-neutral country is awful.  We have seen even more vivid shots of S21 briefly in Ron Fricke’s 1992 masterwork Baraka, reviewed elsewhere on this site.


Worst still, the result of the extremist takeover was connected too closely to The United States erroneous involvement in Vietnam in the 1970s.  The Khmer Rouge came into power April 17, 1975, as The U.S. had to throw in the towel over a conflict they should have never taken on.  Whether this was therapeutic for all involved, but it certainly will be for some of them and many of the viewers who have been through even remotely terrible life-threatening experiences.  It may be painful and shocking to watch and listen to, even if you think you are tough and have heard it all, but it is a very necessary document of the truth and profoundly so at that.  Those who though Schindler’s List was unforgettable has to see this, because it shows how little has changed in the world, just like the more recent Hotel Rwanda sadly reminded us.  This program too asks tough questions.


The 1.33 X 1 analog video images are priceless and hopefully will not be dismissed when digital HD takes it permanent hold.  Baraka is in 65mm, if any “revisionists” should dare call this fiction, but an etching in solid gold and blood would not be enough for such “persons” out to essentially repeat the crimes in the film.  The Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is just fine for an interview-based program and is in the Khmer language with English subtitles.  Extras include director (and survivor) Rithy Pan in a special featurette for TV on the release at about 8 minutes in length, text bio/filmography on Pan, brief-but-excellent Film In Context text section, text film notes, Human Rights Watch selected-DVDs from First Run, four actual First Run trailers and Cambodia: A Chronology, 1953 – 2001. 


First Run and Human Rights Watch have taken the initiative to release this program theatrically and on video.  First Run’s reputation for always putting such vital material out is well known industry-wide, something other companies do not frankly do enough.  As for Human Rights Watch, with as bad as things have become in recent years, they could not be timelier and their endorsement speaks volumes.  Please support this kind of key programming and buy a copy through Amazon.com as soon as you can.  This will remain one of the most important works this site will ever cover and one that should be seen by everyone.


You can show your support for Human Rights Watch by visiting their website at:




or calling them at 1-(212)-290-4700.  Feel free to write us at the site about the program if you have any other questions.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


 Copyright © MMIII through MMX fulvuedrive-in.com