Like the similarly themed TRADE (2007), which opened a few months earlier, first-time director Guy Moshe's condemnation of international sex-trafficking is awash in good intentions but dramatically inert.
American cardsharp Patrick (Ron Livingston) has been kicking around Phnom Penh
for years when old acquaintance Freddie (Chris Penn, who died shortly after completing work on the film) offers him real money to help him move stolen artifacts. But during one gig, Patrick's motorbike breaks down and strands him in K11, a village-sized red-light district. Forced to take a room in a brothel while the local mechanic orders a part, Patrick breaks his own cardinal rule of surviving Cambodia's pervasive poverty and oppression: He befriends 12-year-old Holly (14-year-old newcomer Thuy Nguyen), a Vietnamese virgin whose destitute family sold her into the sex trade. Stubborn, resourceful and clever, Holly also possesses a deep streak of fatalism: She must have been a bad person in a previous life, she reasons, and is paying for it in this one. Patrick is touched, but steels himself to walk away. After all, as French aid worker Marie (Virginie Ledoyen) patiently explains after Patrick convinces her he's not a contemptible sex tourist like the oleaginous Klaus (Udo Kier), a frequent patron of Holly's brothel buying a girl out of slavery just validates the market. Even more girls will be trafficked, and all Patrick will have done is drive up the price. But Patrick's conscience won't let him rest, and he eventually returns with a vague plan to rescue Holly, only to find that she's been sold to another house.
Cowriter Guy Jacobson, an American lawyer who founded a charitable foundation called the K11 project after becoming aware of child sex trafficking during a trip to Cambodia, also committed himself to producing a pair of documentaries on the same subject. Frankly, it might have been better to skip HOLLY and go right to the nonfiction projects. Mainstream audiences won't bother to see it they completely ignored the bigger-budgeted and more aggressively promoted TRADE and the film's meandering narrative, melodramatic conclusion and underdeveloped characters overshadow the genuinely shocking abuses it condemns.
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