Film review: Jailbreak – Cambodian martial arts film shows undeniable promise
Featuring the Khmer fighting style of bokator, this actioner marks Cambodian cinema’s first significant move into contemporary martial arts films, with its string of breathless hand-to-hand confrontations making up for a weak plot
Cambodian cinema takes a first confident stride into the world of contemporary martial arts films with Jailbreak, a no-frills yet mostly successful beat-em-up showcasing the Khmer fighting style of bokator. Following recent Southeast Asian action films Ong-Bak and The Raid, it takes a simple premise and builds its narrative around the skill sets of its main protagonists.
Fight choreographers Jean-Paul Ly and Dara Our, together with national bokator teammate Tharoth Sam, play members of a special task force assigned with escorting a mob snitch named Playboy to a maximum-security prison.
But when word of Playboy’s betrayal reaches the real boss, Madame Butterfly (played by former adult film star Celine Tran), a bounty is put on his head, which in turn incites a full-scale prison riot. Trapped behind bars, the police must fight their way to safety while protecting their witness, prompting a seemingly endless string of breathless hand-to-hand confrontations.
Directed by Italian expatriate Jimmy Henderson, Jailbreak utilises its shoestring budget for maximum impact. The same corridor and prison cell sets are redressed and used repeatedly, but this is a film that exists solely to service the action, which proves ceaselessly inventive and exhilarating.
Henderson’s camera gets in tight and stays close, as his actors beat 10 bells out of each other with formidable speed and dexterity. Whenever the dust is allowed to settle, Jailbreak’s cracks and seams quickly become visible, but it does show undeniable promise for Cambodian action cinema.
Jailbreak opens on January 25
Want more articles like this? Follow SCMP Film on Facebook