‘Jailbreak’ Review: Jimmy Henderson’s Chopsocky Spectacle

Cambodian commercial cinema takes a big stride forward with “Jailbreak,” an exciting, all-out action extravaganza about elite cops trapped in a prison during a mass breakout. Stylishly directed by Italian expat Jimmy Henderson and starring Cambodian martial arts wizards including female dynamo Tharoth “Little Frog” Sam, “Jailbreak” was a huge domestic hit in early 2017 and brings an exciting new dimension to the recent revival of Cambodia’s film industry. Though running slightly out of narrative steam in the final furlong, this polished production draws immediate parallels with Indonesian hit “The Raid,” and has already secured sales to seven Asian territories including China and South Korea. With more distribution deals in the works, “Jailbreak” has a highly promising international future.

Even during the 1960s and early ’70s Golden Age of Cambodian cinema, only a tiny handful of films featured any significant martial arts action. All that changes dramatically with “Jailbreak.” On show here is the national fighting discipline of bokator, a “knees and elbows” style that all but vanished during Khmer Rouge rule and subsequent Vietnamese occupation before re-emerging in the early 2000s.

Following his 2015 crime thriller “Hanuman” and last year’s rural ghost story “The Forest Whispers,” Henderson’s third Cambodian feature is his most ambitious and most satisfying. With invaluable contributions by DP Godefroy Ryckewaert and choreographers-stars Dara Our and Jean-Paul Ly (a stunt performer and action coordinator with credits including “Doctor Strange” and “Lucy”), Henderson delivers top-notch combat in the cramped confines of prison cells and corridors. Impressively, much of the fighting is shot with full bodies in frame and assembled with minimal editing, allowing viewers to marvel at unadulterated images of amazing physical maneuvers.

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