Far East Film Festival 20

Udine Italy April 20th/ April 28th 2018
The Film Festival For Popular Asian Cinema
Teatro Nuovo Giovanni da Udine
Friday, April 21, time 10.20 PM


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Cambodian cinema, currently experiencing a rebirth, now has its own The Raid. With Jailbreak, the Italian emigrant Jimmy Henderson, already the man behind a couple of the most interesting exploits of new commercial Khmer cinema, Hanuman (2015) and The Forest Whispers (2016), once again brings us the formula of a group of police officers trapped in a stifling building, this time a prison, where the only way to escape is by combatting a throng of dangerous enemies.

The plot has been presented as “the first Cambodian action movie”, and centres around a task force of four officers, the French-Cambodian Ly (played by the action star Jean-Paul Ly), Dara (Dara Our, who previously starred in Hanuman), Tharoth (Tharoth Oum Sam) and Sucheat (Dara Phang, who brings the occasional comic touches to the film), who have to escort the criminal Playboy (Savin Phillip). Playboy has been arrested as the leader of the gang Butterfly, made up of extremely dangerous criminals. But to reduce his sentence, Playboy is willing to give up the name of the real boss of the gang, Madame (Céline Tran, ex-porn star of French-Vietnamese origin, known for adult films such as Katsuni).

The latter, obviously, unleashes her vendetta. Inside the Prei Klaa prison, where Playboy is being held, one of the gang chiefs of the prisoners, Bolo (Siriwudd Sisowath), who was once paid to eliminate Playboy, starts a riot bringing chaos to the penitentiary. Besides Bolo’s gang, other bloodthirsty inmates roam in the corridors of the prison: the rival gang led by Scar (Rous Mony, who the Udine audience will remember as the male lead of the previous Cambodian film presented at the FEFF, The Last Reel by Kulikar Sotho), a cannibal psychopath (Eh Phoutong, particularly keen on earlobes, and who one day was so hungry “he ate his own balls”) and a black assassin (Laurent Plancel). When the group of policemen arrive at the prison, the riot is in full swing, making the task of getting Playboy (who is doing his best to hide) out of the prison without all of them being killed an arduous one.

is an all-action movie, where the plotlines are a pretext to set off a series of fight sequences.
It is no surprise that, when it was released in Cambodia, to promote it a videogame for smartphones was simultaneously created. As with other recent successful B-movies, from South-East Asia and beyond, the action in Jailbreak is constructed as a series of levels to win: at each level, a different enemy comes between the hero/heroes and their goal. Once through a level, the next one becomes even more difficult. In The Raid, this construction is mirrored in the literal process of ascending the building. In Jailbreak, this movement is more deconstructed, less obvious and localised, but somewhat repetitive, due to the unvaried sets of the cells and corridors of the prison. But the fight sequences are irreproachable. Bringing out the best in his stars, Henderson combines and alternates a range of martial arts, from MMA to bokator (the traditional Cambodian martial art).The result is an adrenalin-pumping and extremely fluid success. The editing work, carried out by Henderson himself (with the help of Amit Dubey), contributes in a decisive manner.

Another major galvanising, unstoppable factor of the rhythm of the film is lent by the soundtrack (composed by another Italian, Fabio Guglielmo Anastasi) and the songs by the Cambodian rap duo Kmeng Khmer. This triumphant interaction between film and popular music (not to mention new technologies deployed) confirms the vitality of the commercial Cambodian industry, which could provide us with further surprises in the years to come.

Paolo Bertolin
Film director: 
Jimmy Henderson
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