Imagine an episode of The Amazing Race, but the directors have edited out all the photo finishes, scrapped the tense music, and lost interest in the race itself. In its place are beautiful shots of the travel destination, revealed through patient cinematography, and two hopeless contestants.
It’s probably unfair to compare the two products; despite the similar premise and running times, Gor and Mushegh Baghdasaryan’s Hit the Road: Cambodia is more interested in capturing the authentic experience of being a traveller than any episode of The Amazing Race. Indeed, the tuk-tuk race that Richard “Ric” Gazarian and Keith King are competing in, complete with point-incentivised missions, is little more than a McGuffin that permits the audience to walk into the homes of locals, splash through floating villages, and shop in local markets. It’s very easy to forget there’s a race on at all and the earlier the audience comes to accept this, the more enjoyable the film experience.
Fittingly, we rarely see the other travellers competing in this journey, nor are we given scoreboard updates as to who is winning. This does not matter. Rather, Hit the Road leaves us alone with just Ric and Keith, our two travel companions.
What we learn about Ric and Keith is fairly limited and we’re never made to feel emotionally invested in them as characters. Nor do they deliver us anything particularly insightful about Cambodia or their presence there. If you’re looking for an incise commentary on Cambodian history or a visual essay on the merits of tourism, this is the not the place where you’ll find it.
With that said, the beauty of how Hit the Road is filmed is that those of us watching are made to feel part of the journey. Mushegh’s camera lens and high-definition footage allows us to feel immersed in Cambodia and part of the travel party. As such, we may well come to our own deep reflections while watching the film.
We may choose to disdain our fellow travellers, judging them for their endless complaints or their cultural faux pas (at one point, Keith laments that he can’t “speak Cambodian” in a land where the local language is Khmer). But it’s just as likely that we might identify with Ric and Keith, acknowledging how relatable their struggles are. All of us who have been tourists, especially in underdeveloped nations such as Cambodia, know that not every step of the journey is rosy. Sometimes you lose your bag, sometimes the local cuisine is disgusting, and sometimes your transport options just don’t work. Hit the Road deserves credit for the way it does not shy away from showing us that a wondrous holiday destination does not necessarily make a memorable holiday.
Hit the Road: Cambodia is available to view online here from Manana Films.