Written by Jimmy Henderson and Michael Hodgson
Directed by Jimmy Henderson
Jailbreak is here to sooth your itch of martial arts mayhem in a confined space while non-stop action goes off. It is justifiably compared to The Raid as it is a film that came out of nowhere and showcases a bunch of martial arts from a country that wasn’t known for producing martial films. In this case, it is from Cambodia, and some of the characters practice an art called bokator. A prisoner escort mission goes awry when outsiders want the prisoner dead and manipulate a mass escape, trapping the heroes inside the prison. What follows is characters fighting their way out and attempting to survive while also reluctantly trying to save the prisoner from also being killed. While Jailbreak does not equal The Raid in the sheer awesomeness of the fighting spectacle, it’s still pretty darn good and will make action fans plenty happy!
Cop Jean-Paul (Jean-Paul Ly, Jailbreak keeps it simple with the cast names!) has just be assigned to the Cambodian police as part of an exchange program (He’s mixed Cambodian-French from France, and though he speaks French and English, his Khmer is pretty rusty) He attempts to bond with the the main trio of Dara (Dara Our), Tharoth (Tharoth Sam), and Sucheat (Dara Phang), but tough guy Dara rebuffs all his attempts to be friendly. Dara and lady officer Tharoth have a friendship but that doesn’t extend past that, while Sucheat is the comic relief whose non-police look is explained as him just getting out of undercover work. They are supposed to bring a criminal known as Playboy (Savin Phillip) to prison so he can testify later as to who the real leaders of the notorious Butterfly Gang are. Said leader is Madame Butterfly (Céline Tran), who decides Playboy should be Deadboy and makes multiple attempts to have him killed before he even gets to the prison. Due to bad luck and the officers’ paranoia, all the attempts fail, so she’s resorted to bribing the prisoners to riot so Playboy can be killed in the chaos. But when that many bad people are let out at the same time, there is conflict and chaos, and things don’t go according to plan.
The fighting is the fun of Jailbreak, and once it starts it pretty much continues. Thanks to editing tricks and neat hand-held camera work, several scenes appear to be long continuous shots of constant fighting as the camera runs around the room barely able to keep up with the action. The behind the scenes shots during the credits are filled with shots of the camera people being held in weird positions by other people and ran around. This gives Jailbreak a fairly unique cinematography. Many of the actors are martial artists first and leads Jean-Paul Ly and Dara Our did a lot of the choreography. Jean-Paul Ly has the feel of the young and hungry martial artist actors you see in older Hong Kong movies and he seemed charismatic enough to become a star. The breakout performances are Tharoth Sam as the tough as nail cop who, outside of one scene, holds her own with the guys and doesn’t have time to put up with any of their romance nonsense. She’s also mugging to the camera constantly in the behind the scenes shots. There is also Eh Phuthong as the Cannibal, a character who was locked up in solitary as he kept snacking on the other prisoners and guards. He’s set loose and starts biting his way through everyone, cop and prisoner alike. He’s like an unstoppable force of nature that just makes the drama that much more heightened.
The biggest drawbacks is the prison setting begins to get repetitive. Instead of seeing different parts of the prison, it is almost all hallways and cells. This limits a lot of the types of fighting they can do and makes it harder to make the existing fights distinct. The Butterfly Gang is an almost entirely female organization outside of Playboy, but that fact is barely utilized in the film and most of the members just seem to be eye candy outside of the leader, but to Céline Tran’s credit, she keeps up with the experienced fighters easily.
Overall, Jailbreak is a fun time that gains points for being different both in original and how it is presented. While having flaws, it is still worthy of your attention and will become one of the groundwork films for an eventual martial arts film industry out of Cambodia. They still got a bit to go, but the potential of what could come in the future is intoxicating.
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