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Jailbreak busts out as satisfying Khmer action film

Mark Tilly / Khmer Times Share:

Living up to its hype before I had even entered the cinema, Aeon Mall’s Major Cineplex was bursting with young Cambodians desperate to see what has been touted as Cambodia’s first blockbuster, “Jailbreak,” which opened yesterday.
Featuring a local and international cast, slick and stylish production and a brand of both action and comedy that can only be described as Khmer in its sensibilities, there are high hopes that the film will be the country’s first regional export.
The plot is simple and snappy. A local mobster known as Playboy (Savin Phillip) has been caught – he is assumed to be the head of the notorious Butterfly gang.
He soon reveals that he isn’t the leader and promises to divulge the gang’s true ruler as he is escorted to the infamous Pray Khla prison by local cops played by Tharoth Sam, Our Dara and Dara Phang, and an overseas transfer played by Jean-Paul Ly.
Knowing Playboy will blab, the real leader, Madam Butterfly (Celine Tran), attempts to silence him by sparking a riot in the jail as the cops are on their way out, leading to them fighting for their lives to escape.
Harking back to similar regional films such as 2011’s “The Raid” from Indonesia, the claustrophobic premise of “Jailbreak” allows for a tight focus on our heroes and the action.
Sam and Dara show off their excellent bokator fighting skills with Ly, who also worked as the film’s fight choreographer, kicking plenty of ass as they battle through wave after wave of inmates and gang members.
While the action might not be quite as frenetic and creative as that of “The Raid,” director Jimmy Henderson uses his comparably low budget of about $260,000 and the naturally kinetic nature of bokator to create his own brand of mayhem.
Necks are snapped, heads hit the corners of urinals with satisfying crunches and torsos are pummeled with abandon as the camera whips from one fight to the next.
And as the action begins to tire and becomes slightly gratuitous, the film’s humor swoops in to pick up the slack, with some gags that defy the genre, even if it sometimes does so slightly jarringly. There is one where Playboy goes throughout the entire film desperate to relieve himself and that has a particularly hilarious payoff.
An ambitious film for Cambodia, “Jailbreak” for the most part succeeds in delivering what could be described as the first Khmer action film.
Characters argue over topping up credit on their phones, transferring money through slightly less than subtle True Money product placement, and one hilarious moment of a message lost in translation both pokes fun and exudes pride for the film’s Cambodian origins.
Featuring international flair with a true Cambodian streak right through the middle, the packed audience at Aeon Mall cheered at the conclusion of a film that is sure to do its country proud.

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