BiFan Film Review: ‘Jailbreak’

'Jailbreak' Review: Jimmy Henderson's Chopsocky Spectacle

Cambodian cinema shows it can kick serious butt with this stylishly executed, export-quality martial arts spectacular.

Cambodian commercial cinema takes a big stride forward with “Jailbreak,” an exciting, all-out action extravaganza about elite cops trapped in a prison during a mass breakout. Stylishly directed by Italian expat Jimmy Henderson and starring Cambodian martial arts wizards including female dynamo Tharoth “Little Frog” Sam, “Jailbreak” was a huge domestic hit in early 2017 and brings an exciting new dimension to the recent revival of Cambodia’s film industry. Though running slightly out of narrative steam in the final furlong, this polished production draws immediate parallels with Indonesian hit “The Raid,” and has already secured sales to seven Asian territories including China and South Korea. With more distribution deals in the works, “Jailbreak” has a highly promising international future.

Even during the 1960s and early ’70s Golden Age of Cambodian cinema, only a tiny handful of films featured any significant martial arts action. All that changes dramatically with “Jailbreak.” On show here is the national fighting discipline of bokator, a “knees and elbows” style that all but vanished during Khmer Rouge rule and subsequent Vietnamese occupation before re-emerging in the early 2000s.

Following his 2015 crime thriller “Hanuman” and last year’s rural ghost story “The Forest Whispers,” Henderson’s third Cambodian feature is his most ambitious and most satisfying. With invaluable contributions by DP Godefroy Ryckewaert and choreographers-stars Dara Our and Jean-Paul Ly (a stunt performer and action coordinator with credits including “Doctor Strange” and “Lucy”), Henderson delivers top-notch combat in the cramped confines of prison cells and corridors. Impressively, much of the fighting is shot with full bodies in frame and assembled with minimal editing, allowing viewers to marvel at unadulterated images of amazing physical maneuvers.

The no-nonsense story gets underway with notorious crook Playboy (Savin Phillip, the villain in “Hanuman”) being arrested and transported to a high-security prison. Cops assigned to the supposedly simple task are clean-cut Dara (Our, “Hanuman”); Sucheat (Dara Phang), a pony-tailed livewire; Tharoth (Sam), a charismatic young woman who takes no crap from anyone, and Inspector Ly (Ly), a cool and handsome French-Cambodian officer.

No sooner is Playboy delivered than inmates start busting out of cells. Pulling the strings from afar is Madame Butterfly (Celine Tran, formerly known as adult film star Katsuni), a slinky, sword-wielding type who’s put out a contract on business partner Playboy after getting word he’s about to squeal. With the classic set-up of cops having to fight for their own lives while also protecting a scumbag who’s still officially innocent, “Jailbreak” settles in for a solid hour’s worth of virtually nonstop battle.

Henderson and co-writer Michael Hodgson do a pretty good job of mixing things up. The cops encounter a colorful gallery of featured badasses. Siriwudd Sisowath (a member of the Cambodian royal house of Sisowath) is terrific as brawny bruiser Bolo. Internationally known actor Ruos Mony (“Ruin,” “The Last Reel”) makes a brief but memorable appearance as Snake, a vicious psycho. A one-on-one fight highlight is Ly’s showdown with “Suicide,” a hulking brute played by fellow actor-stuntman Laurent Plancel.

Throwaway visual gags and one-liners are mostly funny. Amusing at first but less successful later are Playboy’s cowardly attempts at avoiding trouble. A fabulous sight when introduced but never quite fulfilling their promise are the members of Butterfly’s squad of leather-clad female assassins.

But these are minor quibbles in the overall scheme of things. The day belongs to Henderson’s high-energy direction and an appealing central cast that deliver credible dramatic performances alongside dynamic physical feats. Production design is a little ragged around the edges. The bouncy score by composer Fabio Guglielmo Anastasi features everything from crunching electronic beats to full-blooded orchestral arrangements. All other technical work is of a high standard on a tight budget.

BiFan Film Review: ‘Jailbreak’

Reviewed at BiFan Film Festival (World Fantastic Red), July 15, 2017. (Also in Neuchatel, Cambodia, Udine Far East, Fantasia film festivals) Running time: 92 MIN. (Original title: “Karpar ukredthachn”)

Production

(Cambodia) A Westec Media release of a Kongchak Pictures production. (International sales: XYZ Films, Los Angeles.) Producer: Loy Te. Executive producers: Michael Chai, Georgina Tan, Song Te.

Crew

Director, editor: Jimmy Henderson. Screenplay: Henderson, Michael Hodgson. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Godefroy Ryckewaert.

With

Jean-Paul Ly, Dara Our, Tharoth Sam, Dara Phang, Savin Phillip, Celine Tran, Laurent Plancel, Sisowath Siriwudd, Ruos Mony, Sok Visal, Em Phuotong. (Khmer, French, English, Vietnamese dialogue)

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  1. Jeremy says:

    Honestly celine, I am glad this movie is such a success, I only hope it comes out in the states soon. But if it doesn’t ill just buy the dvd or something, anyway keep on following your dreams and working hard, and know that you’ve got fans and friends ready to support you abd cheer you on.

  2. Griffin says:

    Damn Rex, she pretty much dropped the mic on you my brother.

  3. Rex says:

    Kind of a shame about Tran. She had the chops to avoid porn all along, not unlike Sibelle Kekili before her, but clearly felt that was all she was worthy of for THIRTEEN YEARS (much as she’ll tell you it was her “adventurous spirit” that drove her into it. Uh-huh). While I’ve enjoyed that work, and have no problem with people who choose to go into it, it WILL hinder her down the road, and frankly it should. I mean, it took her THREE YEARS to land this gig, and she’s really just stunt-casting in a role that could’ve gone to a deserving Cambodian actress (or whomever) who didn’t have to screw on camera for over a decade to bring some minor “name” recognition to the part. .

    Since GAME OF THRONES — and let’s face it, we all know why she was hired for that — Kekilli’s career hasn’t exactly been stellar (she’s often made out to be a big player on TATORT but she’s occasional support at best) and her porn career was short-lived compared to Tran’s extensive no-holes-barred filmography, the very existence of which ALL OVER the internet will eventually have producers thinking it might be wiser to associate with an actress without that kind of baggage, even in today’s porn-drenched world. Adult film “actresses” should stick to porn, then retire to obscurity. The struggle to land legit gigs rarely pays off unless, eventually, B-movie makers come calling who need extras who don’t mind working naked and, umm, covered in various liquids.

    This movie, though? Gotta admit, it’s been on my gotta-see list for ages now. :D

    • Céline Tran says:

      Dear Rex,

      You seem to be very well informed about my career and what I’ve said about it. That’s quite amazing that you seem to know better than myself how I lived my own experience in the adult industry. I can understand that you might feel unconfortable with the fact that a woman can enjoy having sex on camera (by the way this is why I’ve done this job for so long. Believe me or not, I’m not a masochist), but please don’t fall into such a poor argumentation. If you’re so interested into adult actresses, please extend your curiosity to what some of them can actually do.

      No, I won’t retire to obscurity as if I had to be ashamed of sharing my pleasure. No, I won’t give up on my personal dreams because a few people like you just can’t admit that we are more than our job, that each day is a new chance to create something new and re-invent itself. If you decided to limit yourself I can only feel sad for you. But please, be kind enough to not impose this short vision of life on someone else.

      If you’re willing to see what I eventually do in my life, (curiosity is a good thing when the intention is good as well) , you’re welcome to follow me on my websites and social networks. Maybe it will help you to realize that my life is not about porn and that before Jailbreak I’ve performed in different action videos as I practice martial arts. The producers hired me because I was ready to be on set. It’s a martial arts movie, not a bikini music video.

      I hope you’ll still be able to enjoy the movie. That’s not a master piece, but each of us put all its heart and energy in it. I guess, this is what gives real value to things…

    • Poly says:

      Here’s the thing : she’s not in it to “land gigs”, she doesn’t need to. All she needs is, yes, adventure, excitement and performance. She’s busting her ass off (pun intended) to work in whatever is giving her joy and accomplishments. Whatever douchebag director is turning her down because of her past is his loss – not hers. Neither her or Kikelli needs the advice of a sorry ass pseudo-movie critic like you. Go back to happily wank to their old films or whatever you’re into at the moment, and keep quiet about their current, active, meaningful and fulfilling lives – one that you’re clearly lacking.

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