E.T. The Extraterrestrial (1982) showcased a bevy of terrific young talent in a tale set in suburban America wherein the kids took an Earthbound alien botanist under their protective wings. Gremlins (1984) delivered a dark holiday-themed Fantasy wherein one local teenager had to save his neighbors from the devilish antics of a group of … well … Gremlins. The Last Starfighter (1984) saw hotshot video game player Alex Rogan recruited by an alien defense organization to save their world from an oppressive star lord. Honestly, I could go on and on and on with this trend, but I think you get the point: these pre-pubescent explorers often represent ‘the best of us’ because they’ve not yet been molded, shaped, and worn down by a life lived, making them much more capable of acceptable subject matter that falls between the ordinary and the extraordinary.
Granted, writer/director Jake Wachtel’s Karmalink may not be quite as kid-friendly – much less accessible to young viewers the way those American counterparts are – but it’s cut from similar cloth. Its youthful protagonists are adventurers on a similar quest of discovery, one that promises a potential buried treasure that’s equally within and just beyond their grasp.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
From the film’s IMDB.com citation:
“In this Buddhist sci-fi mystery set in the near-future Phnom Penh, a young Cambodian detective untangles a link between her friend’s past-life dreams of a lost gold artifact and a neuroscientist’s determination to attain digital enlightenment.”
See what I mean? There’s a lot to upload here!
Thankfully, Wachtel makes what could’ve been a lot of complicated ideas very relatable by capturing the bulk of the tales as told through the eyes of its young ensemble. Prak is joined in his quest to decipher these dreams of another life by actress Srey Leak Chhith: as an aspiring detective, the girl believes only she can help her friend both unlock the meaning behind the visions as well as recover a missing golden Buddha statue that might be the answer to all their wildest dreams. Their gang is rounded out by a handful of other players, but as none of these are really given anything of substance here – except to play one ‘little rascal’ of the bunch – I’ll leave them as they are.
But the ideas don’t stop there. Karmalink taps into a wealth of cutting-edge science – memory recovery, Alzheimer’s treatments, and more – as well as mines the fertile ground of spiritualism, crony capitalism, and class structure within its 100-minute run time. Despite a preponderance of issues, the film never feels either heavy or heady (as they say); though some of the social issues really only get circumstantial treatment, they’re very real to the lands of Cambodia – the setting for the tale. While there’s ample suggestion that this is the near-future and perhaps not as representative of today, I suspect Wachtel new exactly what he wanted (as a former resident of the country) and framed his motion picture to reflect both contemporary and developing concerns about how scientific progress never really quite positively impacts ‘the little people’ as much as it could.
Therein might just lie the rub regarding all of these technological advances we’re making not only here but around the world: what will be the benefit to our respective souls? Will they help or hinder the attempt to understand the self? The film makes good use of these ‘augmented’ implants in a variety of ways that demonstrate their usefulness, true, but there’s really no examination of the cost: physical or spiritual. Why, this tech is even sported by Buddhist monks in their temples; though it’s shown to assist them in the completion of relatively routine inquiries, none of the characters really sounds off on their hazards to consciousness. That’s likely intentional, I suppose, but I’m surprised Wachtel and crew didn’t include a more formalized verdict in lieu of some obvious symbolic gestures. (If they did, then, alas, I missed it.)
Karmalink (2021) was produced by Valerine Steinberg Productions. Starting July 15th, the feature film is enjoying a limited U.S. theatrical play but will be available for streaming on Apple TV/iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, Xfinity Cable, and other places where VOD purchases are available. As for the technical specifications? Again, I’m no video expert, but I found the flick to be filled with impressive sights and sounds from start-to-finish.
In retrospect, I think it’s safe to say that Karmalink is as much about the ideas of faith as it is about science (and, most definitely, Science Fiction) as it portrays its lead characters are largely being spiritually driven to both understand how their destinies might be link as are their memories. While SciFi is the obvious construct at the core of their brief relationship, it’s their shared cultural background that initially compels each of them to start down the path leading to their eventual intersection in the finale. My own nitpick is that I’m not sure what to make of the journey in the final estimation: what would seem to be produce an epiphany kinda/sorta opens the way to tragedy, perhaps suggesting that true and peaceful enlightenment is only found in death.
(Post script: it bears mentioning that I learned – in my research – that the film’s young starring lead Leng Heng Prak has since passed away since completing this feature … and a development that only causes me to think even longer and harder about what life truly means in these hardened times. The film is dedicated to his memory.)
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Good Deed Entertainment provided me with a complimentary streaming link of Karmalink (2021) by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.