Writer: Jimmy Henderson, Michael Hodgson
Cast: Jean-Paul Ly, Dara Our, Tharoth Sam, Celine Tran, Dara Phang, Savin Phillip, Sisowath Siriwudd, Laurent Plancel, Eh Phoutong
Cert: 15 (TBC)
Running time: 92mins
What’s the story: A Special Forces unit escorting a high value informant to prison must fight for their lives when the inmates break out of their cells.
What’s the verdict: If Assault on Precinct 13 were a martial arts movie, it would be Jailbreak. Picking up the gauntlet thrown down by Ong-Bak and The Raid, Cambodia based Italian director Jimmy Henderson delivers an amped-up explosion of kinetic kick-ass.
Assisted by lead actors Jean-Paul Ly and Dara Our on fight choreography duties, and MMA champion Tharoth Sam as a no-nonsense female cop.
The plot is back of a postage stamp simple. Mid-level gangster Playboy (Phillip) is to be escorted to Prei Klaa prison, where he will give evidence against the all-powerful, all-female Butterfly gang.
On escort detail are regional Special Forces Dara (Our), Tharoth (Sam) and Sucheat (Phang), plus Jean-Paul (Ly) a French-Cambodian liaison on loan from Paris.
But, samurai sword twirling Madame Butterfly (Tran) wants to silence her confidant turned stoolie. After a thwarted assassination attempt, she gets word to Bolo (Siriwudd), a gang leader inside Prei Klaa, that he is to terminate Playboy… with extreme prejudice.
When Bolo’s gang moves into action, the fight to survive is on.
After twenty minutes setting up plot and colourful characters, Henderson unleashes merry Hell. With our heroes having surrendered their firearms at the prison gate, Jailbreak lets loose its martial art of choice, Cambodian Bokator.
Teasing the audience with a few bruising skirmishes, Henderson and cast and crew then announce themselves with a bone-crunching three minute 4-against-4-dozen smackdown. Expertly shot by a roving camera that glides from one hero to another, smoothed out by a few well-placed invisible edits, it’s one heck of a calling card.
Suggesting we shouldn’t take it too seriously, at one point the camera cheekily blinks into a Saving Private Ryan style POV shot of a dazed prisoner watching the action unfold.
Thankfully, Jailbreak doesn’t play its trump card early with this scene. Brawls in cells, medical offices, shower rooms and narrow corridors keep the combat fresh throughout.
Harking back to the 1980s action films of Jackie Chan and Michelle Yeoh, fisticuffs are delivered tongue in bloody cheek. And with super-psycho prisoners The Cannibal (Phoutong) and Suicide (Plancel) offering larger than life threat, Henderson and co-writer Hodgson may even be nodding to notorious HK prison flick The Story of Riki.
Dynamic camerawork and non-stop conflict bely the modest budget and acting limitations of a cast at their best when letting their hands and feet do the talking.
Choosing former adult movie actress Tran as chief villainess risks being empty stunt casting. But, her charisma and genuine talent in a full-throttle climactic showdown with Sam suggests a Traci Lords style migration to mid-level genre movies is in the offing.
Actual stunt casting comes in the form of Ly, a stuntman on Doctor Strange amongst others.
Reportedly, most of the prisoners were action fans trained by the cast. If this is accurate, the gambit paid off. Jailbreak is eager to please and impossible to dislike. No wonder it won the Audience Award for Best Action Feature at 2017’s Fantasia Film Festival.
An open ending suggests a sequel. If so, let these guys loose on the streets of Cambodia.