Review: THE PREY, Late Night Action Thrills
Jimmy Henderson writes and directs, while Gu Shangwei and Vithaya Pansringarm headline an international cast.
An undercover cop must fight for his life when he becomes an unwitting participant in a deadly game of cat and mouse in writer-director Jimmy Henderson's ambitious follow-up to prison riot throw-down Jailbreak, reworking Pichel and Schoedsack’s classic The Most Dangerous Game for the jungles of present-day Cambodia.
Gu Shangwei stars as Xin, a Chinese security officer working deep undercover in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh. When the gang he has infiltrated is busted by the local authorities, Xin finds himself behind bars and at the mercy of Vithaya Pansringarm's corrupt jailor, known only as The Warden. Xin’s problems escalate when he is selected to participate in an illegal manhunt, in which rich underworld clients pay the Warden top dollar to hunt convicts through the jungle for sport.
This tried and tested action movie formula has been revisited numerous times over the years, most notably in John Woo's Hard Target and Cornel Wilde's The Naked Prey. While Henderson's version doesn't really add anything new to the mix, its challenging locations and expanded palette of set-pieces are a notable progression from the confined setting of his previous film.
Fight choreography is again provided by Jean-Paul Ly, who this time remains behind the camera after his starring role in Jailbreak. The film features a number of martial-arts showcases, most notably a prison brawl instigated by the Warden early on in the film, to help his clients select their prey for the forthcoming hunt. There is also a beautifully staged showdown by a waterfall between Xin and one of his pursuers.
The expanded scope of The Prey gifts Ly and his team with the opportunity to stage more elaborate action, including jungle chases, shootouts and even an explosive attack on a remote village. As was the case last time out, the film’s ambition often exceeds the abilities of those involved, while the film’s budgetary limitations are again evident to viewers used to more polished productions in the action arena.
Characters are thinly drawn and dialogue can often be trite or overly expository, propelling the drama forward to where the filmmakers want it to go, rather than adequately justifying why things are playing out the way they are. Some plot strands, particularly a series of hallucinations one character suffers relating to a secret medical experiment, only confuse the otherwise simple premise.
Veteran Thai actor Vithaya Pansringarm, who has enjoyed an impressive career boom since appearing opposite Ryan Gosling in Nic Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives, is far and away the most experienced performer on display and the material is elevated whenever he is onscreen. Gu Shangwei clearly has the technical chops for his lead role, but lacks a magnetic star power required to carry the film forward. The Prey’s roster of high-rolling sadists would have benefitted substantially from a crop of similarly seasoned character actors, to chew the screen alongside Pansringarm. As it is, Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit and Nophand Boonyai -- all of whom, incidentally, also appeared in Refn’s Bangkok-based thriller -- do their best in their underdeveloped roles.
As a no-frills, late-night action indulgence, The Prey certainly delivers, but its lack of memorable characterisation and violent pay-offs may leave some viewers wanting. That said, the advancement of scale, scope, ambition and execution on display here between The Prey and last year’s Jailbreak cannot be understated. Jimmy Henderson was already a talent of interest, following in the footprints of Gareth Evans to create accessible crossover action pics in South East Asia that understand the demands of the international marketplace. The Prey displays a vision and hunger for bigger and bolder films to come. Whatever Henderson and his team do next should be hotly anticipated by action aficionados everywhere.
Review originally published during the 2018 Busan International Film Festival. The film opens in virtual theaters (New York, Los Sngeles, Philadelphia) on Friday, August 21, with a North American VOD release to follow on August 25 on all major platforms.
Virtual theaters (August 21) include: Los Angeles (Laemmle), New York and major cities (Alamo On Demand) and Philadelphia (Film Society). VOD (US & Canada)(August 25) includes: iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Direct TV, Dish Network and all major cable providers.