After the last credits rolled and the lights were turned back on, I turned to my friends Sébastien and Debby. They both looked pleased with their latest, respective movie experience, so I ventured: “An honest, decent throwback to 90’s action fare?” The responses were unanimous. Now, don’t get me wrong! The Prey is nothing to write home about (even though I admit to taking pleasure in sharing this review with you), but it is still a decently crafted action yarn; yes, the kind that used to make their way to our Cineplex’s or VCR’s in the early 90s. For instance, picture an independent director/producer attempting to create their own version of something akin to First Blood, but with very little money. You get the idea?
The premise behind Jimmy Henderson’s (Jailbreak) The Prey is far from original: An undercover cop in a remote jungle prison is forced to become human prey. When I read the synopsis, John Woo’s 1993 film Hard Target starring Jean-Claude Van Damme readily came to mind; I’m sure you can think of a few other similar-themed flicks.As far as I could tell, Henderson – directing his fifth feature – is well aware that his storyline is no lightning in a bottle (even though no less than three screenwriters are credited), yet he seems totally unapologetic about it. Instead, he cleverly focuses on making the most of a very limited budget (hence, a basic storyline with little character development, and most of its 1h 33m running time set outdoors in the jungle).
In watching the Fantasia showing of the movie on July 20, 2019, I never really felt as if Henderson’s choices were awkward. No, they seemed rather calculated, which made for an entertaining early afternoon at the movies. The director set out to keep the action going, something he did rather well even though the tone for this one is far different from Jailbreak’s martial arts mayhem (The Prey is NOT a martial arts movie); the film provides its share of adrenalin rush what with numerous chases, shootings, stumbles, stabbings and a few really good hand to hand (foot) scuffles.
While most of Jailbreak was meant to feel claustrophobic with the story set in an old Southeast Asian jail, The Prey is the exact opposite with panoramic and bird’s eye views, fields and jungle settings, not to mention its night scenes towards the end of the film. Henderson is to be commended for trying something different, expanding his filmmaking range.
The film’s action scenes were designed by rising star Jean-Paul Ly, star and fight choreographer on Jailbreak. As always, Ly delivers the goods and also makes the most of the low-budget film. Leading man Gu Shangwei who, at times, reminded me of Robin Shou is not only well cast, but handles whatever Ly threw at him with ease. Fighting-wise his delivery is smooth, fluid, and intense. Memorable scenes from the film involve a fight between Gu and Jailbreak co-star Dara Our; an entertaining prison brawl; as well as a Gun-Fu fight that involves Gu and real-life Bokator practitioner/fighter Sarin Preap.
Unfortunately, Henderson’s boldness with the camera goes awry for the latter one; instead of using a long shot for the Gun-Fu action à la Chad Stahelski, the director closes in on the antagonists, framing mostly facial expressions and grunts, most likely to emphasize the opponents’ struggle, all the while neglecting to actually show the physicality choreographed by Ly.
It’s a shame we do not get to see what is actually going on. Henderson should have taken a page from director Kurt Wimmer’s 2002 flick Equilibrium, a forefather of John Wick in the Gun-Fu department. Fortunately, Henderson did not repeat the same mistake for the scuffle involving Gu and Jailbreak’s Our. Here, and under Ly’s ever- explosive action direction, the two stars are allowed to shine, and they do not disappoint.
I would be remiss not to mention actor Vithaya Pansringarm (Only God Forgives) as the Warden (what else?), and Nophand Boonyai whom, despite not having the former’s acting chops, still delivers an intriguing character (perhaps the only one from the movie). All in all, grab your favorite treat, beverage, and enjoy The Prey. Fans of 90s action fare such as I surely will.