Taking a gander at Cambodia for a bit, a new film is on the horizon from director Jimmy Henderson who caught much of our attention a few years ago with his feature debut, Hanuman. The film, a vigilante revenge thriller starring actor and martial artist Dara Ours, doesn't have any overseas distribution beyond the region just yet, but has been released locally and screened among a few including myself, and while low in budget with some corners cut, the film delivers good and plenty on what it promises when it comes to its fight sequences.
Thus, it serves up a nice little dish when it comes to introducing moviegoers to Cambodian martial art, Bokator, and what makes it even more interesting is how it will be applied for what now awaits in Henderson's latest, Jailbreak, which begins filming in a little less than a few weeks. The film's active development in the past year or more has been a slowly-growing eye-opener for the niche, especially with regard to the international team now partaking in the production along with a number of notable martial artists, and with the addition of former AV star Celina Tran in the course of her own transition to action cinema stardom.
At the forefront of all this is producer Loy Te who was on hand for last week's press conference in Cambodia to announce the film and its cast and agenda. Te's schedule is a fully-loaded one as of late, though thankfully I was able to send Te some questions to help shed light on the film and other details about Cambodia's newest prospect in the martial arts and action film genre.
|Loy Te at HKFilmart 2016|
Loy Te: Hi Lee! I’ve been working in films for five years technically, though for the first three years I was more on the distribution side, learning the “other” side of filmmaking. At that time I was also working in 3D Animation and CGI, and only worked on TV commercials. It’s only about two years ago that I produced my first independent feature film, and since then I have been I fully devoted to Feature Film production.
LT: I’ll admit I’m a big fantasy geek, and I’m particularly fan of the Tolkien universe. I’ve watched The Lord Of The Rings Trilogy countless times, even used to learn to speak Elvian in my college days [laughs]. Though nowadays I spend a lot more time binging on TV series then movies. FRIENDS was one of my biggest influences growing up - I literally learned English by watching those shows. But nowadays, my go to series is obviously Game Of Thrones.
|From L to R: Loy Te, actor Savin Phillip and director Jimmy Henderson|
LT: Well, I first met Jimmy Henderson on the shoot of RUN, the first Cambodian Zombie Apocalypse movie. Back then I joined them on shoot for a few days as a behind-the-scenes cameraman. We then met again while he was producing HANUMAN, and I joined the project by designing the Official poster Artworks for the movie. It was at that time I first talked to him about Jean-Paul Ly who had already worked on LUCY, 24: Live Another Day and Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist at that time. However unfortunately it was too rushed/late to fly him in for Hanuman. So we waited, and we kept chatting about possible ideas, scenarios for the movie. JP flew in to Cambodia at one point on his way back from Tokyo to London, and then we sat down and threw ideas on the table. Our main goal was to create a situation where our main protagonists where trapped in a building, and from there tension grew. And that’s basically how Jailbreak came about.
LT: We’ve gathered an amazing team for the movie. Of course Jean Paul-Ly was going to be the main protagonist in our story. But as soon as we started talking about characters, we knew we wanted to bring back Dara, the main actor in Hanuman, as well as Savin Philip as the main bad guy. However, we really wanted to bring in a female character that would be empowering this time. And that’s why we approached Tharoth Sam, Cambodia’s first female Bokator fighter, and ONE UFC Champion 2014 for Cambodia. We looked at some of her fights on YouTube and it was so impressively brutal that we knew we wanted her. Plus, after meeting her in person she turned out to be the ultimate sweetheart, very polite, very modest, definitely the type of attitude we wanted to work with. This was the core team that helped develop the story and the project. And then along joined other great talents. One of our latest great addition came for the crew department, with Godefroy Ryckewaert joining us as Director of Photography on Jailbreak.
LT: Well the biggest challenge in the preparation of this film was to train a stunt team to handle the action packed scenes for the project. Cambodia’s film industry is quite new, it has greatly suffered from the Khmer Genocide and it has only started to redevelop itself in the last five years when Official Licensed Cinemas opened here. While there is great talent, and you can now find all the technicians needed on a shoot, stunts was something very new that was only brought in by the production of Hanuman. This time we went a lot further by training to this day over 60 stunt fighters that have been learning from Jean-Paul Ly’s expertise over the past 2 months. And this is a legacy that they will keep, and that will serve the local industry for Cambodia for other productions to come.
As a producer I get to learn a lot of things on this project. Jailbreak is a film much bigger then anything I’ve had to work on before, and that most of us have had the opportunity to take part in. It is a very daring project aiming to push back the limits of what has been done before and showcase to other countries that Cambodia‘s film industry is booming.
|From L to R: Godefroy Ryckewaert, Celina Tran and Savin Phillip|
LT: I think this is one announcement no one ever expected us to make! [laughs] The few people that had the scoop before its official announcement have all been baffled with Celina’s addition to the cast, and we are truly grateful to have her on board for Jailbreak. The story behind this is quite random, actually...We met coincidentally in Hong Kong during HK Filmart this year. We were attending it under Westec Media Limited, our distributor, for the first year, and representing Cambodia films on the market. It so happens that we were presenting Jailbreak as Cambodia’s first big action film, and Celina happened to be attending this year, looking for new opportunities for her to join the martial arts scenes in films. I believe she was pretty surprised to hear of such a project from Cambodia, but she was also curious. Next thing you know, we’re flying her in to join choregraphy rehearsals, and she’s even been taking classes to learn to speak khmer for her role.
LT: I strongly believe that this film will bring something new on the table. As a start we are showcasing the Cambodian traditional martial arts Bokator, that dates back from the Angkorian era. It is a unique fighting style, beautifully stylized, and was almost over the last decades. It has now regained its popularity and is being presented to UNESCO to be categorized as national heritage. I think in general no one expects this to come from Cambodia, so there’s a lot of attention being drawn on the project, and on the local industry in general. We can only hope this will bring in more foreign production to recognize talent in Cambodia and show interest in the market. Then of course, we have Jean-Paul Ly who spent the last seven months before coming to Cambodia, working as part of the fight crew on Marvel’s Dr. Strange, and he has ensured to deliver kick ass fight moves.
LT: We are still in preproduction at the moment, with the shooting scheduled to start by early July. We can’t say much about what future the movie holds, but we like to think that if all goes well there could a possible sequel.
|From L to R: Loy Te, Jean-Paul Ly, Dara Ours, Savin Phillip, Celina Tran and Tharoth Sam|
LT: Well for sure what I can tell you is you can expect some very funny scenes, as the movie is after all categorized as an Action Comedy. But be prepared to have some gruesome “ouuuhhhh…” moments with the fight choreography Jean Paul Ly has prepared. I mean, just during rehearsals, we’ve had these moments where we knew these fight sequence will look epic.
LT: Well thank you very much for the chat, it was a pleasure to share with you the latest news on our project. I hope that people will show curiosity on the project. Jailbreak is truly a work of passion, and we witness it every day on the set with the level of commitment from the whole team. In the meantime, people can follow our page to stay up to date with progress on the movie at www.facebook.com/JailbreakTheMovie! Cheers!