With all the previous martial arts movies from countries like Thailand (“Ong Bak”, “Chocolate”) and Indonesia (“The Raid”, “Headshot”), it seems like the cradle of the genre has moved a little bit to the west of Asia. Cambodian “Jailbreak” comes to establish the fact.
“Jailbreak” screened at Fantasia International Film Festival
Three Cambodian policemen, Dara, Tharoth, Sucheat and a French one, Jean Paul, accompanying a mobster known as Playboy, who is considered the leader of the notorious Butterfly gang, to a high security prison. The mission seems easy enough, but the four policemen find themselves caught in a jailbreak, orchestrated by Madame Butterfly, the real leader of the gang, in order to prevent Playboy from giving information to the autjhorities. Now the four of them have to fight for their lives against Bolo, who has become the leader of the jailbreak, scores of inmates, and two prisoners who are considered monsters, Suicide and Cannibal, while Madame Butterfly and her gang of super-sexy, sword wielding assassins join the fight eventually.
Jimmy Henderson presents a distinct combination of exploitation, martial arts, and b-movie aesthetics, which, finally, is stripped of any kind of drama, romance, or any effort to give depth to a genre that thrives through the lack of it. In that fashion, Henderson does exactly what the category demands. He introduces a number of interesting-looking characters, and lets them kill themselves through continuous action scenes. The four “ultimate” villains represent this trait quite eloquently: Cannibal, whose name implies his human-eating nature, Suicide, a black master of martial arts, Bolo, a street fighter of enormous strength and finally, Madame Butterfly, a katana expert. The duels of the four with the policemen, who use the Cambodian martial art, Bokator, are the most impressive in the film, along with the ones where the four of them fight scores of prisoners, most of which seem to know martial arts, in another distinct, b-movie element.
Another aspect I cherished is that the four protagonists are not invincible in any way, as they are beaten quite a lot to the point of becoming unconscious, while the ending of the film, in similar fashion, definitely leaves way for a sequel. Another trait of the direction is the buildup of the action, which starts generic, but becomes more and more violent, and even gory as the story progresses. Furthermore, there is a sense of somewhat crude, but very fitting humor that lightens up the whole concept, additionally giving it a comic book feel. Lastly, as all martial arts films should, the movie ends with some footage showing bloopers and actual scenes from the shooting.
Godefroy Ryckwaert does a great job in the cinematography department, as he present a truly hellish and claustrophobic environment inside the prison setting, while a number of action scenes are impressively shot. The editing is also great, with Henderson retaining a very fast pace throughout the duration of the film. The action choreographies by Dara Our and Jean Paul-ly are more than impressive, featuring, apart from Bokalor, a number of freestyle techniques, that work quite well in the general, chaotic setting.
As usual in this kind of films, the acting serves the action scenes. However, the job done in the casting is utterly impressive, as it features actors ranging from former porn stars (Celine Tran aka Katsuni) to female MMA prize-winners (Tharoth Sam). The same applies to the actors playing the three villains described before, Sisowath Siriwudd as Bolo, Law Plancel as Suicide, and Eh Phoutong as Cannibal.
Overall, “Jailbreak” is an impressive action film, in a no-nonsense style that reminded me much of “Riki Oh”, although with a toned down gore element. Fans of all the spectrum of exploitation are bound to love it.