FANTASIA 2017: Jailbreak Directed by Jimmy Henderson
Starring Celine Tran, Jean-Paul Ly, Laurent Plancel
Published Jul 25, 2017Directed by Italian expat Jimmy Henderson, Jailbreak intends to do for Cambodian cinema what The Raid did for Indonesia, and the gritty yet sleek martial arts film, which pummels audiences with perfectly choreographed martial arts, mostly succeeds.
Jailbreak centres on Playboy (Savin Phillip), a mob boss who is facing a lengthy prison stay unless he rats out his higher-ups. He's a selfish and cartoonishly stupid man, meaning he'll happily turn on his leader Madame Butterfly. Played by former adult film star Céline "Katsuni" Tran — whose quiet menacing adds welcome subtlety to the film — Butterfly is willing to do anything to stop him from snitching.
As such, Playboy is a moving target, and when her assassination attempts fail, Butterfly instead puts a hit out on the mob boss within the prison walls. This sets off the titular jailbreak, which is exactly as chaotic and downright violent as one might expect.
The ensuing battle is fairly straightforward, as police take on a variety of prisoners in an hour's worth of ass-kicking, including various gangs and an ear-munching cannibal who escapes the solitary confinement wing. All the while, Playboy whimpers and whines as he attempts to hide from the chaos.
The film offers breathtaking cinematography in its perfectly choreographed fight scenes, which feature the martial art of bokator. The dazzling and inventive fight moves are made all the more immersive thanks to creative tracking shots and perspective shifts; at one point, we see the fight through the blurry lens of a baddy who's getting his ass kicked.
The film mostly falters in the brief moments between fight scenes, where hit-and-miss slapstick humour collides with boilerplate action-movie melodrama. There are two cops who struggle to put their differences aside as they pine over the same girl in a subplot that feels absurdly worn out at this point. Furthermore, the film's utilization of Khmer, English and French is confusing, particularly when the actors' English lines are barely decipherable through their accents.
That said, you'd be stupid to enter Jailbreak in search of the next great drama. The film delivers a dizzying feast of martial arts mayhem that will have you audibly cheering at the screen. By the time the last face-kicks are landed, you'll have forgotten all about its plot problems.