Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Wed Aug 19, 2020 6:57 am 
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NOPHAND BOONYAI IN THE PREY

Rumble in the jungle

Jimmy Henderson is an Italian living in the UK who makes action movies in Cambodia. His snappy 2018 version of Richard Condon's well-worn 1932 public domain story "The Most Dangerous Game," using the team with whom he made his successful 2017 actioner Jailbreak,is coming to virtual theaters August 21 and to Video on Demand on August 21, 2020. As BlackBook says, it "has incredible international width, and a laser focus on the trusted tropes of the genre." One of the site's comment-posters calls The Prey "an impressive display of mediocrity." A nice piece of meanness, but logically dubious. Mediocrity by definition is never impressive. One suspects the comment-writer hates himself for the fun he had. No need. Henderson is a pretty decent director. He gives us, as the Black Book writer says, plenty of the ingredients of this kind of story. It's best treated with respect, as does Elizabeth Kerr of Hollywood Reporter[when she called The Prey, at Busan, "a lean, mean bit of pulp entertainment that will most definitely satisfy fans of the genre." I can only say that, while I can thoroughly enjoy an Eric Rohmer film on my computer, a movie like this suffers from not being on a great big screen with a full cineplex sound system. But crank up the sound, turn on your imagination, and have fun!

First essential is an indestructible hero, who will be shakily standing at the end. He is a Chinese undercover cop called Xin (played by a Chinese martial arts expert Bu Shangwei), who's on a secret mission of some highly illegal variety who gets caught in a raid and winds up in a jungle prison in the malicious "care" of - another essential - a despicable bad guy, the evil warden (Vithaya Pansringarm of Only God Forgives: this is a better movie). The Warden is into all kinds of wrongdoing, including shipping around heroin, as turns up later. He has a money counting machine in his office, which looks pretty suspicious to some inspectors who come. One thing he does - our focus here - is set up deadly manhunts for sport, using a selection of the most feisty prisoners, as revealed at an all-out hand-to-ghand battle, the movie's first action scene.

That scene reminded me of Welsh director Gareth Evans' now famous 2012 Indonesian-made hyper action film The Raid: Redemption (ND/NF 2012). It's not as unique as that; nothing is. But it's pretty full-on action for a mere warmup. The Warden culls a small number from this mayhem. They're sent running. The group of rich nasties who've paid for the manhunt shoot at them, and bring down half a dozen. (This is the ugliest thing to watch.) Those who escape, the hunters set out to find.

The charge that half way through Henderson's "concentration on narrative" "somewhat gives way" is unfair, and obviously vague. Actually, there's more plot than most viewers are likely to be able to follow in a single viewing. Really I could only focus on a few main threads. The hunters include an older man with chiseled features, yes, a guy with a man-bun, and a third principal character, a large, rather beefy, pretty young man with a gold chain called Ti (Nophand Boonyai). We don't see very much of the man hunters except for Ti.

Xin pairs off with a regular prisoner who later, in homage, tells his leader he'd never have survived without him and is "just a thief." He acknowledges Xin must be "something special." Ti hasn't such extraordinary survival skills. He's just willing to take on a local village man, deeply familiar with the jungle, who turns up hunting with his small kid, using him as a decoy when Xin and his sidekick are hiding in a shack. The kid loses his dad, but adds a lot of feeling to the action as he mourns and remains a vivid presence because he's apparently mute but communicates expressively with sign language.

The Warden is neatly threaded through the action, exuding evil in his every scene. He waylays the government inspectors sent to his office and executes one of them. A woman remains alive, and somehow is dragged into the jungle when things get dicey (due to Xin's ability to fight back), and this lady has scenes where the kid teaches her how to say "friend" in sign language.

One thing that eluded me was why a lot of the man hunters turn up again dressed in white, with cloth caps, like surgeons. But it's spooky. It seems to scare Ti, who in turn adds to the plot in late conversations with the manhunt leader, who's not his father, though he has daddy issues.

A low blow is to have Bach's "Goldberg Variations'" opening Aria playing at the Warden's office, the way Glenn Gould's version was used in Demme's Silence of the Lambs. it's threaded in at the end too, in a version by Nathaniel Jones, whoever he is, perhaps a friend of Mr. Henderson. That may be a bit of pretension, but this movie, for all its plot threads, is a plain and simple action movie, quite lacking the tonal shifts and the intended more complex references of Kleber Mendonça Filho and Juliano Dornelles' Bacurau and did not get that film's vast and prestigious festival exposure. But Henderson has been invited to some festivals for both this film and Jailbreak (which Netflix was interested in) and The Prey took him to Busan, Fantasia, and BFI London.

The Prey, 90 mins., opens in virtual theaters Friday, August 21, 2020 with a North American VOD release to follow on August 25 on all major latforms.

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©Chris Knipp. Blog: http://chrisknipp.blogspot.com/.


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