Open Doors Hub | Selected project 2019

Red Mekong

by Anysay Keola

Phou, a young man from a rural village in Northern Laos is looking for his missing sister, who had crossed the Mekong in Thailand some months before to work at a karaoke bar. Meanwhile, Aran, a Thai man in his mid-thirties is on a drug-smuggling mission in order to pay for his daughter’s heart transplant. After the two of them cross paths and are both caught up in a murder, they must learn to trust each other in order to survive and return home with what they are looking for.

Director's Note

I want to make a lm that looks at the Lao - Thai relationship from a different point of view than propaganda films’ love. During my journey to the golden triangle border area of northern Thailand and Laos, I was surprised to find out that almost 9 out of 10 girls are willing to work in the Thai sex industry. In remote villages, the majority of parents encourage their children to cross over to send home money. This inspired me to tell a story of human trafficking from a perspective that is not that of the innocent victim.

Laos and Thailand are neighboring countries divided mostly by the Mekong River. Despite the similar culture and language, the relationship between the two is fragile. Born in Laos, I moved to Thailand at the age of 9 and grew up as teenager there, before coming back to pursue my career. This multicultural experience helped me see that those love/hate relationships are rooted in a strive for a unique identity, which is used by the ruling class to de ne the word “nation”. In the end, we are all Homo sapiens, trying to survive in our own social context.

Our two main characters are evil, set in their crime “neo noir” underworld. To survive, they have to peel off labels and prejudice against each other, through life and death, to nd the humanity left in themself.

The background story also reflects China’s influence over Laos in terms of economy and immigration. Chinese government has leased parts of Northern Laos a nd built a casino region, claiming to boost the economy, but benefiting only a small number of investors and authorities in the end.

Visual Concept

Our characters are not black and white. They all have multiple dimensions, they are not just a victim and a bad guy. Rather they all act and make decisions based on the social norms they follow, their personal motivation and survival instinct. To represent such characters, we will use a high contrast look to represent the grey world that they’re living in, coupled with a desaturated look to emphasize the underworld of crime and violence. Lighting techniques will be influenced mainly in reference to the “film noir” style and the camera movement will be heavily on realism style.

Producer’s note

After the success of At the Horizon, the first Lao thriller drama (2011), Red Mekong is another exciting film project written and directed by Anysay Keola. It is a great opportunity for me to work with this talented and creative film director again. I believe in his ability to bring Lao films into international film festivals and inspire young fimmakers.

In Laos, a number of women are forced into human trafficking by their own family members. Phou, the main character represents this dynamic. Aran is involved in the disappearance of Phou’s sister. Anysay explores the struggles of these two men — one is looking for his sister while another is looking for money to save his son — waiving the characters into a story that reached out to me.

We started developing Red Mekong in 2013. The film did not get approval to be shot in Laos due to its sensitive issues. Despite censorship, we do not give up, as we believe that the film will bring the audience a powerful experience.

We plan to film Red Mekong in Thailand, working with a Thai co-producer and involving some local cast and crew. At the same time, we aim to find more collaborations with producers, diverse sources for funding and distribution.


Anysay Keola

Fiction, Thriller Drama

Shooting format 
4K, Color

Estimated running time 
90’ - 100’

Production status 
Writing and Development

Shooting language 
Lao, Thai

Shooting location 
Thailand or Laos

Shooting period 
Dec 2020 - Jun 2021

Total budget 
EUR 246'853

Funds secured 
EUR 26'315