Review Written by Tron DeLapp
Director: Jimmy Henderson
Starring: Jean-Paul Ly, Tharoth Sam , Dara Our, Celine Tran
I am a huge fan of Asian cinema and a big proponent of martial arts films so when a film festival like Fantastic Fest comes around I make sure to pay strict attention to any movie that seems to encompass those categories. It goes without saying that as soon as I saw the trailer for Jailbreak I knew that it was not only going to make my ‘must see’ list I was pretty sure I was going to give it a favorable review. This piece here serves to confirm the truth of those statements.
The first thing I thought when the trailer played was this film is Cambodia’s version of The Raid except set in a prison and that assessment isn’t that far off of Jailbreak’s end result. The movie acts as a vehicle to showcase the ‘knees and elbows’ fighting style of bokator and succeeds at this dramatically with the fight scenes coming fast and furiously, ala The Raid, which is why the comparison between the two films is rather apt. There was enough fisticuffs and humor in the teaser trailer alone to ensure that this was going to be a great time in the theater and the movie did not disappoint one iota. The criticism I heard levied at the film came from problems with the plot, which to some seemed rather thin; I counter with the people who thought that don’t get out and watch very many martial arts films. Jailbreak isn’t Gone With The fucking Wind and isn’t going to waste a ton of it’s 100 minute run time adding subtle nuances to it’s characters or adding complex sub plots about the socio-political status of the country of Cambodia, nor should it. The reason Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was so well received is it was an aberration in the milieu of Asian martial cinema, more of an art piece with martial arts rather than a martial arts film and that works great for what it’s trying to accomplish. However, as great as Crouching Tiger was, Iron Monkey proves to be a more entertaining film. Jailbreak, much like The Raid, is striving to be Iron Monkey rather than Couching Tiger and it succeeds mightily.
The story centers around the character of Playboy (Savin Phillip ), a notorious criminal caught by Cambodian police, who are sure he’s the leader of the infamous Butterfly Gang. Playboy is not and sees this as an opportunity to reduce his sentence so, as he’s exiting the courtroom, makes the bold statement to the press that he’s willing to cough up the name of the real leader of the Butterfly Gang if he can be set free. This, of course, royally irritates the real leader of the Butterfly Gang (adult film actress Celine Tran in her film debut) who is already stinging from Playboy’s betrayal. She finds out which prison Playboy is set to be transferred to and contacts a prisoner inside, Bolo (Siriwudd Sisowath), offering large amounts of money if Playboy suddenly found himself dead before the big reveal. This doesn’t bode well for the four police officers set to do a routine prisoner transfer by bringing Playboy to his new accommodations. The transfer goes off without a hitch but on the way out of the prison, the cops discover Bolo has been a busy guy, releasing all but the most hardened criminals with the mission of killing Playboy. Now, trapped in a prison with hundreds of vicious thugs screaming for Playboy’s blood, the cops must go back into the mouth of the beast in order to save Playboy, a scumbag that deserves what he gets. To make matters worse, due to some prisoner double-dealing, the Butterfly Gang themselves decide that if you want something done right you have to do it yourself, descending on the prison to right their own wrong. Good thing these cops kick a lot of ass.
The movie goes from there to non-stop mortal combat in 3.2 seconds. The police in the prison are made up of stunt choreographers and real-life MMA bad-ass Tharoth Oum Sam (who was at our screening and personally greeted and thanked everyone on the way out of the theater) so you know the fight scenes, of which there are many, have an element of realism that sets it above most martial arts thrillers. At the Q+A we were told they attempted to put 22 fight scenes in the movie but due to it’s shorter run time they were only able to work in about 19, all of them brutal. Tons of scenes with one or two of our hapless cops, just trying to save their own lives as well as that of a key witness, being descended upon by hoards of screaming prisoners and forced to defend themselves abound in Jailbreak, with choreography so inspired I saw things even I’ve never seen in action films of this type and I’ve seen plenty. This creates a relentless, adrenaline pumping tone which is carried throughout the entire rest of the film, especially when the hyper-violent criminals, including the cannibal, enter the fray. The action works like a video game, where tons of underlings attack at once, creating a frenzy of fists, elbows, knees and environmental attacks that permeate the screen, bodies flying everywhere, that ultimately leads to a battle with a slightly tougher enemy, escalating in such a manner until the final confrontation which isn’t as final as you’d believe. The film is not without it’s elements of humor as well, which helps off-set the almost constant fight scenes and brings a certain self-referential element to the movie, showing the filmmakers knew exactly what they were doing while making this type of thriller.
It goes without saying that if you like an almost non-stop action thriller like The Raid, combined with a sense of humor that wouldn’t be out of place in the works of Sammo Hung, Jailbreak is definitely the film for you. Chock full of brutal and relentless fighting, amazing pacing and enough goofy comedy to take some of the bite of the brutality out, Jailbreak stands as a testament to how to make a fun and engaging action thriller and should be doubly praised for coming out of Cambodia, a country not well known for it’s genre film output. Hopefully this isn’t the last we’re going to see of Jimmy Henderson and his talented cast and stunt team they had to build from scratch. Seeing as how The Raid got a sequel, I’m sure Jailbreak will turn enough heads to warrant the same consideration. Of course, it’s TOTALY RECOMMENDED.