Xin (Gu Shangwei) is caught up in a police raid while working for a gang of criminals: he was simply a gofer for them, not involved in any of the most illegal activities, but that does not prevent him being arrested and swiftly sent to a jail in a jungle region of Cambodia that is as remote as it is unforgiving. However, one thing the authorities who have sent him there do not know is that Xin is actually an undercover Chinese cop, who was trying to infiltrate a gang in the capital, and now he has no one to tell, for if he gave the game away his life would be in even more danger. The fact he is victimised by the hierarchy of other inmates makes his position ever more perilous - but the worst is yet to come.
There was one original scene in The Prey, where one character, after being riddled with bullets vapes and the smoke he has inhaled plumes from the holes in his chest. Was that enough to justify watching the film, however? It depended on your tolerance for the umpteenth version of that old reliable, The Most Dangerous Game, the nineteen-thirties adventure favourite, well, it was certainly a favourite among filmmakers wanting a plotline that was cheap and easy to do, since it would take place in the great outdoors, thus saving the need to build potentially expensive sets. Here it was the Cambodian forests that provided the locations, at least something a little different for the style.
Cambodia may not have produced many action flicks up to this point, and it was telling that the director and co-screenwriter here, Jimmy Henderson, was a European who for some years had been forging a career in East Asia with genre pics, including, predictably, horror. But the novelty factor was an element to be banked on, and though the hardened action aficionado may be rolling their eyes at the prospect of rerunning Jean Claude Van Damme in Hard Target or the eighties hilarity Deadly Prey, only with a different cast, the more generous might be sitting back with this and encouraging it to show them what they had to impress them. But would they be impressed at all?
A low budget was in evidence here, but you didn't need masses of cash to stage a chase through the undergrowth, merely a few rounds of blanks, an explosive or two, and some fake blood: the climate would supply all the sweat you needed to make it look as if the cast were exerting themselves sufficiently. Henderson apparently envisaged this exercise as a boys' club, so there was only one woman in the cast, and she was present in this action cliché land to be kidnapped, as so many of her fellow females were in this genre. What he was hoping for was the audience would be caught up in the story of the cat and mouse between one hunter and his quarry, Xin. The hunter in question was none other than Mr. T! But before you were bracing yourself for general fool-pitying, it wasn't that Mr. T.
It was one of the social elite in this film, played by Nophand Boonyai, who like to hunt prisoners for sport, with the aim of killing them, that forbidden thrill of murder we are told in films like this is catnip for psychopaths with too much time on their hands. We are relishing the way the film builds itself up for a final confrontation between Xin and T, which is all the more curious for the fact Henderson did not follow that up, not to spoil anything, but both men are distracted before they can go at it mano a mano. Otherwise, if inspiration had left this project alone for the most part, you could at least say it was an efficient little effort that satisfied on a straight to streaming level more than many of its contemporaries, and the developing world setting served up local flavour even if we did not get the expected martial arts combat sequences that area of the planet might have led you to look forward to. Some of the things this did not do were odd, in light of how wedded to conventions it was otherwise. Music by Sebastien Pan.
[The Prey will be available on Digital Download from 7th October.]