Stubborn, obstinate, unrelenting, tragic are some of the adjectives which describe Holly, played so honorably by Thuy Nguyen in her starring debut as a victim of human trafficking. With support by Ron Livingston as Patrick, her attempted savior, we follow Holly in her attempts to escape the sordid hands of her captors, pimps and madams in Cambodia's prostitution trafficking rings which run rampant throughout the country.
Sold into slavery by her poverty-stricken Vietnamese parents, Holly must find ways to elude all the people that want her virgin body for profit. When Patrick comes along and takes a fancy to this unkempt, proud twelve-year-old, his attempts to rescue her and spare her from this life of sexual exploitation become the focal point of the film. The duplicitous behavior of her madam and others who seem to be kind to her is only concentrated on keeping her in bondage.
Part of the strengths of the film lies in the actual and realistic settings producer, writer, director Guy Moshe used. He filmed the movie at actual red-light locales. All the filth, squalor and depravity of these brothels are recorded in glorious Technicolor. Virginie Ledoyen as Marie, who runs a shelter, attempts to offer a safety net to the wandering Holly. Her compassion and regard are like a breath of fresh air amidst the vile acts of so many others. Chris Penn as Freddie, Patrick's business contact and friend, attempts to dissuade him from his obsessive need to rescue Holly and begs him to leave Cambodia.
But this is Thuy Nguyen's (pronounced "Wynn") film. Her sad, sullen expressions will linger long past the film's ending. The despair and hopelessness so many of these children face daily is testament to a corrupt society where children as young as five years old are prey to foreigners and locals for a price as low as five U.S. dollars.
On the minus side is the script, which has unreal coincidences occurring again and again during Patrick's search for Holly after she disappears. His finding her, by accident, becomes absolutely impossible to believe. And yet, we grow happier each time he finds her, though it adds untold time to the 113 minutes of the film. It detracts from the film which has a powerful and important story to tell; one that endangered the crew while shooting it and necessitated armed bodyguards at all times.
We need films such as Holly to keep the balance of truth versus fiction in our escapist world of film. This is a tough, yet worthwhile, film to see.
In English, Khmer and Vietnamese, with English subtitles. Opening in Los Angeles on November 23