In the new Cambodian action film, The Prey, co-written and directed by Italian filmmaker Jimmy Henderson, an undercover Chinese cop, Xin (Gu Shangwei), gets swept up in a raid that lands him in a notorious Cambodian prison out in the jungle. What Xin doesn’t know is that the Warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) runs a side business: he selects certain prisoners to be literal prey for groups of rich men to hunt.
Unfortunately for Xin, he catches the warden’s eye. What follows is a harrowing and outrageous struggle as Xin and the prisoners try to survive the hunting party. The film mixes martial arts action, gun battles, and old-fashioned psychological warfare work as Xin tries to outrun the hunters through unfamiliar jungle territory while his co-workers from Interpol desperately try to find him.
Loosely based on Richard Connell’s short story, “The Most Dangerous Game,” The Prey mixes in class struggles and politics with its action set-pieces and some usual tropes of the action genre (including villains who stop the action cold to wax philosophical).
In addition to Shangwei and Pansringarm (who appeared in Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives ), the film also stars Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Nophand Boonyai (who was also in Only God Forgives), Rous Mony, Dara Our, and Dy Sonita. The latter three actors also appeared in Henderson’s previous film, Jailbreak (2017), which is currently available on Netflix and well worth watching for its nearly non-stop action brawls.
Although The Prey was made in 2018, it is just getting released in virtual theaters and on demand. The film was also an official selection in the Busan International Film Festival, BFI London Film Festival, and the Fantasia Film Festival.
The Prey features Cambodian, Thai, Chinese, and Japanese-American actors, and is in Cambodian and Chinese (Mandarin) with English subtitles.
Henderson, a director/writer/producer who is described as a “self-taught filmmaker” in his press biography, has been living in Cambodia since 2011. Prior to The Prey and Jailbreak, he also directed the features The Forest Whispers (2016) and Hanuman (2015) in Cambodia.
He recently answered The Convention Collective’s questions about The Prey and his career over email (due to phone and internet connectivity issues, a planned Zoom interview had to be scrapped):
The Convention Collective: What about “The Most Dangerous Game” inspired The Prey?
Jimmy Henderson: I knew about the book but I didn’t read it until I had already conceived the idea. When I developed the concept I was more focused in telling a story about survival and the privileges of the upper class. So it made sense to set up the piece around individuals from opposite social statuses.
TCC: Early in the film, there’s a comment about Chinese-Cambodian relations that struck me as having a deeper political meaning. Is that right, or was it just a throwaway comment you put in the script?
JH: Cambodia has a strong political relationship with China and it came natural to explore this pattern. But not only China, there are other commentaries within the film. If you look at the film from a political angle you can see that there is a Chinese hero coming to Cambodia to battle the injustice of wealthy Thai men who love to listen American rockabilly while murdering people.
TCC: What style(s) of martial arts did you use in The Prey? How did you film the sometimes crazy-looking action sequences in The Prey?
JH: We used different styles of fighting depending on the scene. Some scenes we went full on pub brawl type of style, to keep it as realistic as possible. For the rest of the scene involving Gu Shangwei who has a kung fu background, we had to accommodate the fights around his style. We also used Bokator, traditional martial arts from Cambodia in one particular scene.
TCC: I read that Cambodian film is having a resurgence after having been in a lull because of political issues.* How do you see The Prey fitting into the resurgence?
JH: I think every film that comes to the attention of an international audience benefits the industry here and gives local film producers more leverage and builds trust with investors. It’s important that films like The Prey are able to reach overseas and write a little bit of history for the cinema of Cambodia. That’s the only way we can keep doing what we do.
TCC: I saw that you hired some of the same actors from Jailbreak and your other feature, Hanuman. What do you like about them that you keep casting them?
JH: I’ve built strong relationships with most of the actors I have worked with in the past. So every time a new film is coming up, they are the first ones I reach out to. And also, there is also a limited number of actors that can act and fight over here. So you know pretty much who can play what role while developing a script.
TCC: Are the multiple languages used in your films reflective of Cambodian life, or are they a stylistic choice on your part?
JH: We needed some strong acting presence to carry the film along. So we choose actors from Thailand and from China to play the main cast for this reason. We knew there were language barriers as everyone speaks a different language so we turned this limitation in the script into a story device.
TCC: Both The Prey and your previous film, Jailbreak, involve prisons. What about that setting attracts your interest?
JH: They are two very different films but yes they share a similar visual setting.
I think it just happened to be that way with the specific kind of stories I wanted to tell.
*Note: In the 1970’s, Cambodian cinema was all but destroyed by Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge; other complex issues have resulted in a slow ebb and flow as filmmakers have been rebuilding the country’s film industry. Readers unfamiliar with Cambodia are highly recommended to look up the country’s rich and complicated history.
The Prey opens in select virtual theaters today including: Los Angeles (Laemmle), New York (Alamo On Demand) and major cities, and will available on various VOD services including iTunes, Amazon, Google Play, Xbox, Vudu, Direct TV, Dish Network and all major cable providers on August 25th.