'The Prey': Film Review | Busan 2018
Newcomer Gu Shangwei and Thai veteran Vithaya Pansringarm headline the latest, Cambodia-set riff on the classic 'The Most Dangerous Game.'
Throw the classic human-hunting premise of The Most Dangerous Game, the lush jungle setting of Predator, some wealthy thrill seekers looking for the ultimate rush a la Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ultra-mullety Hard Target (remember that one?) and a dash of any high-octane Southeast Asian actioner since The Raid into a blender and you’ll come out with The Prey, a lean, mean bit of pulp entertainment that will most definitely satisfy fans of the genre. Set in Cambodia and ticking off almost all the required action-thriller boxes — and a few that could stand to be retired — Jailbreak writer-director Jimmy Henderson’s sweaty, fleet, fevered exercise in genre filmmaking is a modest pleasure with enough of a jolt to keep viewers engaged.
While Henderson and company can’t quite capture the lightning in a bottle that was the aforementioned The Raid from Indonesia, they do manage a memorable enough series of fights, heightened archetypical characters and death-defying gun battles to warrant attention from niche festivals globally. A commercial release in urban markets, particularly in Asia-Pacific, is a distinct possibility for creative distributors, and it should follow Henderson’s Jailbreak to Netflix.
The action starts in Phnom Penh, where undercover Chinese Interpol operative (enough with this already) Xin (Gu Shangwei) is investigating a phone scam targeting Mainland Chinese consumers. When the police raid the rundown tenement, Xin is arrested and shipped off to a border-zone hellhole of a prison overseen by The Warden (Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm), where rehabilitation is absolutely not a concern. Fortunately, Xin is able to send a signal to his bosses in Beijing before he’s selected for a special hunt and released into the jungle. Cue booby traps, snapping twigs, gruesome injuries, riverside martial arts and raging gun battles. There’s a vague attempt at commentary on the duality of man and his penchant for violence, but The Prey is mostly fixated on furious action.
Reteaming with his Jailbreak co-writer Michael Hodgson and Kai Miller, Henderson could be accused of trading in genre convention — and that’s accurate, he does — but there’s a whiff of cheekiness to the film that suggests he gets it. All the usual eye-rolling moments are present and accounted for: The Warden is a greedy sadist; hunter-client T (Nophand Boonyai, recalling a young Aaron Kwok) is as arrogant as he is unstable; a nemesis becomes an ally; cigars are chomped; there’s always a handy mirror nearby when looking for snipers; and so on. But it’s all in good fun, and The Prey moves at such a swift pace it’s easy to forgive some of its shortcomings. Less easily forgiven is a half-baked subplot about a rebel village (maybe?) under The Warden’s control and shoehorning in Chinese detective/supermodel Li (Dy Sonita), clearly there to fulfill the role of The Maternal Girl. Why did The Warden’s henchmen not dump her by the side of the road with her partner? Because reasons.
The cast of The Prey is game all around and Gu is a serviceable physical presence, but it’s Pansringarm who seems to be having the most fun with his gleefully villainous Warden. The go-to actor (it seems) for overseas films shooting in Southeast Asia can toggle effortlessly between empathetic (The Last Executioner) and ambiguously sinister (Only God Forgives), and here he’s almost campy, lacking only a mustache to twirl.
Production company: Altered Vision Films
Cast: Gu Shangwei, Vithaya Pansringarm, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Byron Bishop, Dara Our, Nophand Boonyai, Dy Sonita, Rous Mony, Vandy Piseth, Hun Sophy
Director-producer: Jimmy Henderson
Screenwriters: Jimmy Henderson, Michael Hodgson, Kai Miller
Executive producer: Chen Zhi, Guy Chhay
Director of photography: Lucas Gath
Production designer: Samnang Pak
Costume designer: Remy Hou
Editor: Jimmy Henderson
Music: Sebastien Pan
Venue: Busan International Film Festival
World sales: XYZ Films
In Khmer, Putonghua and English