Breaking the mould with "Jailbreak"

Writer: Florey DM

Director Jimmy Henderson and producer Loy Te hope "Jailbreak"
will be the start of something new in the local film industry.

There's only so much horror, comedy and horror-comedy – the staples in the Cambodian film industry – that audiences can take before eventually losing interest and turning to anything but local movies for their cinematic enjoyment. With this in mind, the team behind "Jailbreak" decides to shake things up a little by bringing some action into the mix.

"Jailbreak", as the name suggests, is set almost entirely in a prison, where a riot has broken out and a team of police escorting a new inmate has to fight their way out to safety.

Produced under the Kongchak Pictures banner, the action-packed movie features a line-up that includes action star Jean-Paul Ly, Bokator fighter Dara Our, MMA fighter Tharoth Sam, actors Savin Phillip, Sok Visal and Sisowath Siriwudd, and actress Celine Tran.

We recently sat down with director Jimmy Henderson ("Hanuman") and producer Loy Te to pick their brains about the movie.


Why "Jailbreak"? The reason for picking an action movie

With waning interest in local productions, the Cambodian film industry may soon be facing a complete regression instead of progression, and this was not something that the people behind "Jailbreak" want to idly watch as it happens. As mentioned above, the current market is heavily saturated with horror / comedy. In comes "Jailbreak" with its mission to break the mould by introducing a different approach to filmmaking.

"There's a big anticipation for this movie," said Henderson, voicing his confidence that it will gradually be able to change the way filmmakers in Cambodia make their movies. The tendency to replicate whatever genre is successful at the local box office has given rise to the current atmosphere of filmmakers rehashing the same old story, overpopulating the industry with horror comedies that do not differ much from one movie to the next. The filmmaker shared that if "Jailbreak" could perform well at the box office, then the trend would be changing. There would be more interest in action movies and filmmakers would be more open to trying out other genres.

It is a sentiment echoed by producer Loy Te, who shared that while there are complaints of local movies being repetitive in terms of genre, not many filmmakers are willing to do something different and take risks, leaving the industry in its current stagnant existence. With "Jailbreak", the producer hopes that the cycle of horror comedies can be broken, thus leading to a much-needed revolution in the Cambodian film industry.

Risks are definitely something that "Jailbreak" is taking. "Making a movie in Cambodia, it's always kind of a gamble," said Henderson. The filmmaker admitted that with his previous movie, "Hanuman", the audience didn't react as he'd expected. Learning from that, now he tries to incorporate as many local flavours into his movie while still maintaining his own style. The director aims to make "Jailbreak" a movie that will be accepted both in and outside of Cambodia. The trick is in finding the balance, Henderson stated. "What local audiences like may not be what people outside [of Cambodia] like."


The Malaysian collaboration – an international effort

So how do they find the symmetry? This is where the many hands that work on it become vital. As Henderson calls it, it is "a Cambodian movie with an international flavour". Shot in Cambodia, backed by a Cambodian company, but it comes with the involvement of an Italian director, Italian composer, Thai composer, French and Khmer cast, and Malaysian post-production.

The movie fuses local with international elements. One of the most prominent local touches in the movie is the inclusion of Bokator. The fighting style of the Khmer martial art is featured heavily in the movie, making this more relatable to locals while at the same it promotes the ancient martial art to non-Cambodians. It also has popular local band Kmeng Khmer contributing to the OST, eliciting a larger reaction especially from the younger local audiences who frequent cinemas.

Meanwhile the international components come in the form of storytelling, filming and finishing touches. Action-packed stories aren't often heard of here whereas the cinematography is unquestionably different than what is usually seen on the local big screens. What really stands out, however, is the quality of the finished product with its proper sound and colour grading. "Jailbreak's" director and producer duo were willing to go all the way to Kuala Lumpur to try and maximize the potential of the movie using the facilities that are not quite readily available in Cambodia as they are in Malaysia. Basecamp Films (digital colour grading and mastering facility [pictured above]) and Imaginex Studios (music, sound design and mixing studios) worked together to put the finishing touches to the movie.

As explained by Scott Inglis, Managing Director at Basecamp Films, all of the audio is done by Imaginex. The final mixing for the tracks was done in Basecamp's THX cinema room, which is the only THX-certified facility in Malaysia and one of the few in Southeast Asia. A company, such as Imaginex, can come to Basecamp and film in a standard environment which will work anywhere in the world. "So you play in a good cinema in London or UK or Sydney, it will sound the way it sounds here. What you see is what you get, what you hear is what you get and it translates around the world," said Scott.

"Jailbreak" is the first Khmer movie Basecamp has worked on. However, it's definitely no rookie in the film industry as it is the largest feature film post-production company in Malaysia and has worked on various big productions in the country, including projects for Skop Production, Primeworks Studios, Astro Shaw and Asia Tropical Films.

The result from this collaboration is a well-finished action movie, and the "Jailbreak" team hopes that with this kind of multi-collaboration movies being produced, it would hold a mass appeal that would make it easier to be accepted by both local and international markets. Even if "Jailbreak" doesn't pan out at the local box office, it still has the chance to find a market abroad. A movie that doesn't have too narrow a focus can be appreciated by a much larger audience. Currently, that is the problem faced by Khmer movies made for local audience, which don't necessarily translate well to outside viewers. Some local titles that have done well at the local box office fail, however, to rake in a profit when sent to regional markets. Hence the reason why the makers of "Jailbreak" are trying to put emphasis on proper colour grading and sound editing, standard things that should be taken into account when making a movie.

"We want to show people what Cambodia can offer," said Henderson. "Not many people outside know about how much potential, how much talent there is. So we made this movie for those reasons. We want to give our audience a good product that they would be proud of."


What's next for "Jailbreak" and its makers

Being a movie that is made for both local and international consumption, "Jailbreak" is already looking at potential markets outside of Cambodia despite not yet releasing in its home country. Currently, the movie is confirmed for release in Laos. It is also eyeing other regional screens that include Malaysia, Myanmar, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, as well as international release in the United States.

Jimmy Henderson revealed that he will be working on a smaller scale movie next with a high concept story, planned for release outside of Cambodia. If the "Jailbreak" concept does not work for the director, he would focus more on English language movies instead, produced in Cambodia for the overseas market.

Loy Te will turn his focus back to "Final Semester", a Kongchak movie shot a few months before "Jailbreak" but was put on standby for a while. The movie will also have a different approach to horror movies in Cambodia as it will be more serious with its thriller element, which will also be pushing the envelope when it comes to the local film industry.

See how "Jailbreak" fights against the tide this 31 January 2017!

Cinema Online, 30 January 2017

Related Movies:
Jailbreak (CIFF) (Khmer) (04 Mar 2017)

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