There’s a line in PREDATOR (1987) where Jesse Ventura’s character Blain says, “This place makes Cambodia look like Kansas.” He was talking out of his ass. If Jimmy Henderson’s new Indonesian action/thriller THE PREY is anything to go by, the jungles of Cambodia are pretty rough. In fact, they look downright nasty.
Xin (Gu Shangwei) is a Chinese cop abroad, investigating a group of phone scammers in Phnom Penh. He’s deep undercover when Cambodian police break through the doors and arrest and detain everyone involved, including Xin. Keeping up the act to not blow his cover, he awaits Chinese authorities to intervene and remove him from the prison quietly. Unfortunately, the man known only as “The Warden” (Vithaya Pansringarm) has other ideas, and sends Xin off with his fellow inmates to be released in the jungle and hunted like animals by the highest bidders.
THE RAID and its sequel are not just some of the best action films to come out of Asia in the past couple of decades – they’re up there with the best action films of all time. It’s not surprising that other filmmakers from the region have tried to repeat their success, and THE PREY is next in line to grab the attention of genre fans. There’s an increasingly impressive range of talent coming out of Southeast Asia, and Cambodia’s Jimmy Henderson is no exception. These guys know how to make films that are just, well… damn cool. Between this and his previous film JAILBREAK, Henderson and his team have shown a lot of promise, but I honestly don’t feel he’s reached his full potential with THE PREY.
Like any good martial arts action flick, the fights in THE PREY are fast and frenetic. This is thanks to the skill and agility of the performers, but the choreography lets them down and is a wee bit underwhelming. I mean, I’m not saying I could do any better. If I tried to orchestrate a fight for these guys, they’d probably end up looking like one of those inflatable things you see flapping outside car dealerships. I think I’ve just been spoiled by other films from the region. Further dampening the action is an overreliance on computer-generated muzzle flashes and blood sprays. They’re disappointing and make me long for the days of blanks and squibs.
Otherwise, the film looks good. The camera work is dynamic, barely giving the audience time to catch a breath before whipping along into the next action sequence. The jungles are captured in all their hot and sweaty greens and browns. You can feel the humidity radiating from the screen.
Gu Shangwei provides a stoic protagonist and is likable enough, but the most interesting performance is provided courtesy of Vithaya Pansringarm as The Warden. He relishes and takes great glee in being truly despicable. Everyone else comes across as a blank slate, without much development to flesh out the characters to a point where we can really care about them or their plight.
The film’s most obvious influence is THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but the more astute action fan will feel at least a few twinges of déjà vu, as Henderson riffs on PREDATOR, BATTLE ROYALE, and THE RUNNING MAN just to name a few. And it’s probably the familiarity of the proceedings that bring the film down below what it could have been with a more unique approach.
As I said, the region makes some cool movies, and on the surface, THE PREY fits in with its desired crowd. In theory, it has enough shooting, punching, and things blowing up to arouse your reptile brain out of slumber. But it’s just not as cool as other recent Southeast Asian flicks and doesn’t go far enough with its mayhem to really make a huge impact. That could have been mitigated with some more fresh ideas, but alas, Henderson takes a beaten path through this particular action jungle. However, forgiving genre fans may find things to like here, but they’ll have to excuse the permeating familiarity and lesser action scenes.
THE PREY is part of the line-up at the Fantasia International Film Festival 2019.