First They Killed My Father is a 2017 biographical historical thriller film directed by Angelina Jolie and written by Jolie and Loung Ung, based on Ung’s memoir of the same name. Set in 1975, the film depicts 7-year-old Ung who is forced to be trained as a child soldier while her siblings are sent to labor camps during the Khmer Rouge regime.
During the Vietnam War, the United States military begins bombing the neutral country of Cambodia, invading in the Cambodian Campaign. Facing constant U.S. bombardments, many Cambodians begin looking to the Khmer Rouge for protection. The U.S. pulls out of Cambodia and evacuates its embassy. A Lon Nol officer, Ung, known as “Pa” to his children, including 7-year-old Loung Ung, expresses regret in trusting the Americans as the Khmer Rouge draw closer. The family is forced to flee; Pa Ung denies working for the government when questioned by soldiers. The family is forced to work in a harsh labor camp, where they are told to “give everything”; Loung sees a child beaten for stealing a bean. They are told families are meaningless and the ruler is mother and father. Loung sees Pa taken away by officials, and has a vision revealing he was murdered and buried in a mass grave.
The children’s mother, Ma, tells them to flee in different directions, and seek new work camps under false names. Loung reaches another camp when the Vietnamese invade, sparking the Cambodian–Vietnamese War. The camps preach propaganda, calling on workers to destroy the Vietnamese. Loung and other children are given weapons and taught to become child soldiers in Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge Killing Fields. During this time, Loung has a vision that Ma has also been killed and buried in a mass grave.
Loung sees people beating on a Khmer Rouge soldier; she sees him as her father, and flashes back to the violence in her life. As she cries out to the man as Pa, the aggressors disperse. She looks at the beaten man, and walks away. As the war ends, the Red Cross enter Cambodia.
The film screened at the Telluride Film Festival and 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, and was released worldwide on Netflix on September 15, 2017 to positive critical reception.