Monkey Dance

Dance helps three Cambodian teens navigate the minefields of urban America
Year Released
Film Length(s)
64 mins
Closed captioning available
Remote video URL


Three Cambodian-American teenagers come of age in a world shadowed by their parents' Khmer Rouge nightmares. Traditional Cambodian dance links them to their parents’ culture, but fast cars, hip consumerism, and new romance pull harder. The three teens gradually come to appreciate their parents’ sacrifices and make good on their parents’ dreams.

Featured review

A fascinating narrative of fusion, assimilation, and renewal — the hard inevitabilities of multiculturalism.
Marcia B. Siegel
Boston Phoenix


Monkey Dance provides an intimate look at what it means for the children of genocide survivors to come of age in America.

Samnang Hor, an athletic 16-year-old born in a refugee camp in Thailand, is driven to achieve to make up for his two older brothers dropping out of high school due to their involvement with gangs and drugs. Sochenda Uch, a lanky, fashion-conscious 16-year-old, works a series of part-time jobs to pay for the necessities and accessories of teen life, while his mother worries that he doesn’t study hard enough. Linda Sou is a freewheeling 17-year-old who struggles to overcome the shame cast on her family when her older sister was imprisoned for murdering an abusive boyfriend. Linda has been dancing since age three, when her father founded the Angkor Dance Troupe to preserve Cambodian culture in America – though she’s more interested in boyfriends and fast cars.

It is dance, both traditional and modern, that ultimately makes a difference for these kids. They belong to the Angkor Dance Troupe, which preserves Cambodian dance traditions almost lost when 90% of its practitioners were killed in the violence of the Khmer Rouge. Cambodian dance provides Linda, Sam, and Sochenda with a unique connection to their parents’ culture at a time when many immigrant kids reject traditional culture, considering it irrelevant to their lives in America. By making the dance their own, each of these young people forge a link with the past while also finding their way in America – where creativity, self-expression, and individual achievement are critical keys to success.


This brilliant film brings to life so many of the important issues facing today´s second generation — children born in the U.S. of immigrant parents. The young people in this film face the challenges of growing up both American and Cambodian. They overcome many obstacles growing up in poor neighborhoods and with few resources and they discover through dance the rich heritage of their parents´ homelands. This rich and engaging film is a terrific resource for courses on immigration, ethnicity, American studies, sociology, and anthropology. My students loved it!
Mary C. Waters
Loeb Professor of Sociology. Harvard University
The Cambodian monkey dance celebrates a pan-Asian folk hero, part trickster, adventurer and warrior, whose mind is as agile as his body. The subjects of this documentary are equally agile in negotiating between the lures of American youth culture and the expectations of their parents who survived the Khmer Rouge atrocities of the 1970s…. Filmmaker Julie Mallozzi creates a moving portrait of these teenagers as they navigate the landscape of urban adolescence.
Mary Carbine
Bridges: Asian American Studies Newsletter, Univ. of Wisconsin
Monkey Dance (2004) is a skillful rendering of the challenges for first-generation resettled Cambodian refugee youth growing up in a gritty urban American context. These challenges are very different than those their parents faced surviving the Khmer Rouge Revolution in Cambodia. But they are on their own as they navigate the pitfalls of school, work, and romance in an immigrant city, even as their parents' brutal history resonates through their lives. Dance Family (2017) offers an unusual second chapter in the unfolding lives of the children of refugees and immigrants in the US. It brings the ongoing relevance of Monkey Dance into the present, and reminds us of how chance and change shape the future in unpredictable ways.
Lindsay French
Associate Professor an Anthropology, Rhode Island School of Design
A fascinating portrait of a working-class Asian-American community and a catalyst for thought-provoking and stimulating classroom discussion. My students strongly identified with the film´s protagonists and their struggle to negotiate between ethnic family and American popular culture. Yet the depiction of this conflict is not stereotypically represented as an either-or choice between acculturation and loyalty to community. Rather, the film captures the true complexity of the situation and offers a third option, one metaphorically represented by dance. In focusing on Cambodian Americans, the film expands the canon of Asian American Studies and is a valuable resource for any Ethnic Studies classroom.
Leslie Bow
Dir., Asian American Studies, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison
A truly masterful work portraying the lives of youth and families who are trying to begin new lives in a strange land while making peace with the ghosts of their past.
Dr. David Wilcox
Clinical Instructor in Psychology, Harvard Medical School

Awards and Screenings

Audience Favourite Feature Award, Toronto Reel Asian Intl. Film Festival
Insight Award, National Assn. of Film and Digital Media Artists
Santa Fe International Film Festival
Wisconsin Film Festival
San Francisco Intl. Asian American Film Festival
Asian American Intl. Film Festival (New York)
Asian Pacific American Film Festival –Smithsonian
San Diego Asian American Film Festival
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Museum of Natural History, New York

Director Commentary

I work to capture an authentic voice in my films. In Monkey Dance, I wanted to portray what it feels like to be a teen and how tough it can be to make the right choices. I shot most of the film myself as a one-person crew: riding along in speedy cars, waiting around in supermarket parking lots after hours, eating delicious homemade Cambodian food with the families. I also gave my three subjects small video cameras to record their own lives.

Over the four years of filming, my relationship with the kids changed. I became a parent myself and gradually became more interested in interviewing their parents. I was just blown away by their stories. They had survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, suffering through torture and murder and starvation. They had lost most of their relatives and had run through the jungles, avoided landmines, and sat festering in refugee camps for years. Then finally the U.S. accepted them and they came to this place where they had nothing. The parents told me that America wasn’t where they wanted to be, but that they came here to give a better life to their children. I realized that this was what was at stake for Linda, Sam, and Sochenda.

The Angkor Dance Troupe plays a key role in helping these kids find their way and make good on their parents’ dreams. It connects them to their family’s culture and helps them become more successful Americans, through gaining confidence and recognition as performers.

Fifteen years after making Monkey Dance, I checked in with Linda, Samnang, and Sochenda and made the short follow-up Dance Family. Now in their early 30s, they have all returned to Lowell become leaders in their community.

Features and Languages

Film Features

  • Closed Captioning

Film/Audio Languages

  • English
  • Khmer

Subtitle/Caption Languages

  • English

Promotional Material

Promotional Stills

Resources for Educators

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