BFI London Film Festival: Jailbreak

Directed by Jimmy Henderson
Starring Céline Tran, Jean Paul Ly and Tharoth Sam
Screening at LFF October 6th, 7th, 15th, 2017

by Richard Hamer

Constantly comparing one film to another is usually bad form, and a little unfair to one – if not both – of the parties involved. In the case of Cambodian martial-arts romp Jailbreak, comparisons to The Raid aren’t just appropriate, they’re practically invited.

The setup is similar: a group of highly trained, body-armour wearing cops find themselves trapped in a single, confined location, with no other recourse than to fight their way past hordes of criminals. Where The Raid is set in a gang-controlled high-rise, here we have a vast prison complex, mid-riot.

Sadly, Jailbreak is by far the lesser movie; while its fight choreography is suitably energetic, the creativity simply isn’t there. It has its moments: One early, ‘first-person’ sequence – which finds the camera furiously switching focus between multiple fights in every direction – displays real ingenuity. For the most part, however, Jailbreak seems constrained by its own setting, resorting to similar looking encounters in similar looking, grey prison corridors.

Or perhaps we should say, constrained by its own budget. There’s no getting away from the fact that Jailbreak feels cheap, with flat, soap opera lighting, and horribly stilted acting (that switches constantly between Khmer, English and French in a way that only about half the cast seem comfortable with. It probably should have been done away with). Further hampering it is a weird, tonal uncertainty: Jailbreak channels The Raid in much of its setting and style, but lacks its grim seriousness. This wouldn’t be a problem, except it never fully commits the other way: This is a movie that features both a fist-fight with a cannibal and an all-sexy-lady crime syndicate, but also a scene of attempted rape, and some fairly bloodthirsty violence. It even ends with outtakes like a Jackie Chan movie.

All of which leaves Jailbreak feeling a little more amateurish than – in all fairness – it really is. There are some undeniably talented martial artists on show here, and in the (admittedly rare) moments when the combat, music and its charming stupidity align, it can really sing. But even then, it lives too fully in the shadow of a movie that it self-consciously emulates, but can never compete with. One can’t help but think that the creators of this movie said, “let’s make the Cambodian version of The Raid!”, when perhaps instead, they should have just said, “let’s make the Cambodian Jailbreak. Nobody’s done that one before”.



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