The Women of Jailbreak

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As the cast of ‘Jailbreak’ finished up production on one of the most anticipated action-comedy films of the year, Khmer Times learned more about two women who sweat, kick and fight as much as their male co-workers.

The film follows a group of Special Forces soldiers escorting a notorious criminal, Playboy, to the isolated prison of Tiger Island. Veteran actor and notorious charmer Savin Phillips will be playing the smooth-talking Playboy, who rats out members of the all-female gang ‘the Butterflies’. Plans goes askew when the prisoners take over the complex and both the French special task force and Cambodian police must work together to escape the prison.

French actress Celine Tran, who plays the leader of the Butterflies, local Bokator martial arts star Tharoth Sam, who plays a member of the Cambodian police, and production manager Sreylin Meas all revealed a bit about themselves and the struggles of being female working in the film industry.

The Brunette Bombshell

Born in France of mixed Vietnamese and French heritage, Celine caused a commotion when she signed on to play a starring role in ‘Jailbreak’. She started like any average teenager and was admitted to the School of Political Sciences at 18. She ended up spending the following three years studying modern literature.

Despite finding an interest in school, she could not shake the feeling of being unfulfilled.

“I just felt the urgent need to live my own experience by exploring the world and not only apprehending my life through my books,” Celine explained.  “I like to challenge myself, to test my limits. I was a very shy young woman at this time, and my desire to explore my femininity and sexuality was really intense and led me step by step to working in the adult film industry as an actress and performer [in 2000].”

Fiesty actress Celine Tran plays the leader of ‘the Butterflies’ in ‘Jailbreak’ . Supplied

Building a name for herself and creating a strong fan base in Europe and America, Celine decided to take the next step forward in 2013 when she set her sights on the film industry.

She quit in the adult film industry, left Los Angeles, and moved back to Paris. But she had a much tougher time finding roles when she left the adult film industry and often had to deal with overt racism when trying out for certain roles.

Casting directors would laud her for her beauty but make comments like “you don’t look like the typical girl next door,” and “you’re too Asian,” as well as “blondes sell more.” The limitations of the movie industry were frustrating because directors did not see Asian actors as “bankable.”

The struggle with finding roles led her to Asia.

“I like being the exception rather than the rule,” she said. “Let’s cultivate our differences. Movies are fiction, but they are still a reflection of our world.”
She went on to host two TV shows in France in 2004 and 2010 and launched her own line of lingerie later that year.

Between 2012 and 2015, she acted in three French TV shows, a web series, one comedy film movie and a few action videos, which eventually led her to ‘Jailbreak’.

At 37 years old and hotter than ever, Celine has been working hard to match the intensity of her fellow actors and said she felt lucky to work with such a talented team of stunt performers.

“In my first action video, you can see me using guns, a katana and spinning around a pole,” Celine recalled. “This is my first action feature. I’m already learning a lot from the choreographer Jean- Paul Ly.”

The Rising Action Star

Tharoth “Little Frog” Sam is not quite sure how she came to be an actor in ‘Jailbreak’. Muscular arms clasped her fellow cast members as she grinned childishly after a well-executed scene. As an expert Bokator fighter and MMA stalwart, she has slowly moved into acting, securing a few small roles in locally made films.

But her face is synonymous with a new generation of female Bokator fighters moving to the silver screen.

“I guess it’s because this is a movie on martial arts and since I am a female Khmer martial artist and professional fighter, I fit the character to a T,” Tharoth explained while flashing a grin. “I am also a natural badass.”

Born in a refugee camp, Tharoth has worked her way onto the national team representing Cambodia in the martial arts of Bokator. She trains and competes for MMA matches and martial arts bouts while continuously filming three to four movies at the same time.

Training since 2008, she has been fighting professionally in rings and matches in Cambodia as well as in international MMA competitions. Now nearing her 26th birthday, Tharoth is living her dream by being an action star in films, following in the footsteps of her idol, legendary Muay Thai movie star Tony Jaa.

“I hope this film will motivate them [women] to do more martial arts, especially Bokator or any other sports,” Tharoth said, “instead of sitting and crying in their room about brokenhearted things.”

Becoming a good role model and encouraging more women to try martial arts and sports is important for Tharoth, and they are the reasons why she endures long hours on the film set and performs all her own stunts.

“I want all women to know that we too can do it [fight],” she added. “I’m all about empowering women.”

‘Jailbreak’ is her fifth film to date, but she is in the process of filming three movies this year.

The Woman Behind The Lens

Sreylin Meas is the production manager of ‘Jailbreak’, and at 28 years old, she is one of the few women working on set every day helping to produce the film.

She was drafted by director Jimmy Henderson to help with the movie and this is her first action film. She was surprised to see how quickly actors, stunt crew members or even extras could get hurt during fight scenes, and quickly learned how to best prevent accidents and injuries.

As a mother, Sreylin hopes that through her actions, she can encourage more women to work in the Cambodian film industry. She has been challenged every step of the way not only for her youth and gender but also for the time constraints in her life.

Sreylin was able to find a balance in her life, in work and as a mother.

“I always try my best to spend quality time with my little girl and I try to balance it but it is still pretty hard since our schedule isn’t from 9am to 5pm like regular work,” Sreylin said. “I sometimes bring my daughter with me on some projects.”

Sreylin had a hard life as a child, barely getting an education while looking after her little brother. She never dreamed of a career in film until an NGO helped her attend an English school. There, her classical Cambodian beauty attracted attention and she was encouraged to register to be a model, which led her to small acting parts in front of the camera.

What interested her more was working behind the lens, picking up an eye for production and continuing to work on more than 20 productions. ‘Jailbreak’ could be a game changer, she said.

“We have an actress as a fighter who does a really good job and can provide a different point of view of how people usually think about women in Cambodia,” Sreylin explained. “Many from the older generation believe that we women should be home taking care of our family. But now I think that concept has changed a lot.”

She added that even in Thailand, there are more women than men in the film industry. If these ladies are any indication, Cambodia can expect more women to join films in the future.

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