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The Heart of a Tiger

The Heart of a Tiger is based on the true story of a woman who escaped the Cambodian Genocide in the 1970s. It follows three generations of women struggling against the boundaries placed upon them, each ultimately emerging triumphant to achieve their dreams. This is my family’s story of survival. Received 39 awards.

Growing up as a stubborn child in rural 1950s Cambodia, VANNA SONG was a constant contradiction to her father’s old-fashioned ways of thinking. Vanna dreamed of obtaining an education despite the opposition of her father who believed that women should not be educated, but should instead marry and become caretakers to their husbands. A rebellious child, she defied her father, society and convention—sometimes recklessly—to attain an education. In the end, the education she strove so hard to attain becomes a life threatening liability to her. Vanna, on the day of her wedding, is not someone you would bet on when it comes to surviving just about anything. She's been spoiled rotten by her mother TEVY, and her obsessive urge to emotionally wound her father leads her to marry a man (VIREAK) she considers ugly and annoying simply because it goes against what her father wants. Several years later, in their small home in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, Vanna obsesses over her students while Vireak and Tevy take care of her baby, Davi. However, Vanna's insulated life is torn apart with the arrival of the Khmer Rouge. While Cambodians were in the midst of celebrating the New Year Festival on April 17th, 1975, Pol Pot's child soldiers (the average age of Khmer Rouge fighters was 16) swept through Cambodia, deporting all “city people” into forced labor camps. Vanna and her family are forced to march for over a month in a sea of starving and dying deportees. They reach their destination only to find themselves in the killing fields. All “remnants of imperialism” were to be destroyed, which meant killing every teacher, engineer, doctor, lawyer, musicians, artists, or other professional. The entire Khmer culture was to be eradicated. During the four brutal years of the Cambodian Genocide, Vanna hides her identity as a teacher in order to keep herself and her two young children alive. Friends become enemies and her true identity is revealed multiple times. It was night when the Khmer Rouge came for Vanna. An acquaintance had betrayed Vanna, informing the Khmer Rouge about her past as a teacher. At the communist headquarters, kneeling before the Mit, the local Khmer Rouge leader, who was flanked by grim-faced soldiers, Vanna didn’t beg for her life. Instead, she looked him in the eye, and asked to tell a story. That story saved her life. Used to entertaining her students with vivid fairytales, Vanna began to tell a story about a wealthy merchant and his faithful guard dog. She described how a thief tricked some villagers into believing the merchant’s dog was rabid and enlisted their help in clubbing the innocent dog to death. After the murder of the guard dog, the scoundrel returned at night to rob and kill the merchant. “I am like that dog,” she said. “I’m just a simple, loyal, dumb beast. I am no teacher. I can’t read. I can’t even write my own name. If you believe them and kill me, you will be tricked, just like those foolish villagers.” Caught up in her storytelling, the Khmer Rouge ended up releasing her. She walked back to her family, convinced she had witnessed a miracle — no one who was taken away by Pol Pot’s men returned alive. It was one of many times my mother escaped death during the four years of the Killing Fields, and one of many times she used her mind and wits to help her and her children survive. Vanna did anything she could to keep her children alive. After working all day, she crept into the jungles to forage for food for her young daughters and elderly mother. One time, she was digging for wild bamboo shoots and stumbled upon a litter of tiger cubs in the jungle. Terrified, she ran for her life to escape the mamma tiger, which she was certain was nearby. But arriving back at the hut empty-handed, she mustered up her courage, then returned to the jungle to pick more wild bamboo shoots. “The Heart of a Tiger” is about more than tragedy. Vanna's story celebrates the goodness of humanity in the heart of darkness. The Heart of a Tiger is the inspiring story of one woman’s journey from hell and back, and how she found redemption in the Cambodian Killing Fields. Vanna finds the strength to confront the challenges to her survival through a growing faith in a power greater than herself. After narrowly surviving the Khmer Rouge's reign, Vanna must choose between staying with her mother in a ruined country or risking land mines, trigger-happy border patrol, and treacherous guides to reach a Thai refugee camp where Cambodians are receiving passage to America. However, Vanna reaches the camp only to find Thai soldiers firing rockets into the refugee camp they are supposed to protect. Vanna's tent is hit by a rocket propelled grenade, nearly killing her entire family. Vanna is taken to a Red Cross surgeon who saves her life. She finds herself in a recuperation tent run by missionaries. The missionary group aids Vanna in gaining sponsorship for her family to come to America. At seventy years of age, Vanna continues to inspire. Returning back multiple times, to her small hometown of Srok Puok, she helps the people of her village heal the wounds inflicted by the Khmer Rouge’s tyrannical rule. She helps build a community center and begins a much needed farming initiative for the local villagers. Incredibly grateful for the many blessings, Vanna continues to pay it forward.

Written by:
Format:
Screenplay
Starring Roles For:
Jackie Chan
Nan Yu
Gemma Chan
In the Vein Of:
The Killing Fields
Schindler's List
The Joy Luck Club
Posted:
04/30/2018
Updated:
06/05/2020
Author Bio:
S R Kui studied medicine in California and trained in Texas. She came full circle to return to her first passion - writing. She and her sister hope to share their mother's story with the rest of the world and to honor the 2-3 million lives lost during the Cambodian Genocide.

They have built an unlimited platform having written for the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, Washington Post, Salon, The Independent, The Huffington Post, and many more of the world's biggest media sites.

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Contest Results:
Faith in Film (First Place) [2018]
Los Angeles Film Awards (LAFA) (First Place) [2017]
ScreenCraft Cinematic Story (Second Place) [2019]
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