An Asian hunger games

The Prey. photo courtesy of Busan International Film Festival

Besides the world premiere of Nakorn-Sawan (see main story), Thailand -- and Thai actors -- are well-represented at the ongoing Busan International Film Festival. While Thai films are slotted into various sections of the programme -- Girls Don't Cry, Manta Ray, Ten Years Thailand, as well as the restored version of The Scar in the classic section -- a Cambodian film with a strong Thai presence is also showing at the festival.

The Prey, an action film screened in the Midnight Passion sidebar, is directed by Phnom Penh-based Italian Jimmy Henderson and stars a lead cast of Chinese and Thai actors. The film speaks a blissful jumble of Khmer, Thai, Chinese, English, and in a true global village fashion (or a just cinematic license) everyone seems to understand each other. Henderson's first feature film Jailbreak came out last year and was also billed as a Cambodian thriller; while the market is still developing, it's an effort like this that has put Cambodian movies back in the international circuit.

In The Prey, a Chinese secret agent is nabbed in Phnom Penh and sent to a prison in a remote jungle near the border (bordering what, it never says). The agent is played by Gu Shangwie, a Chinese martial artist, while the warden of the prison is an eccentric sadist played by Thai actor Vithaya Pansri-ngarm (Only God Forgives, A Prayer Before Dawn, and other international films shot in or near Thailand).

It turns out that the warden is running Hunger Games-style (or Battle Royale-style) shoot-out sessions for his wealthy clients, who pay a lot of cash to kill inmates, in cold-blooded fashion, as they're set loose in the jungle. The other three Thai actors with prominent roles are Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit and Nopphand Boonyai, playing hunters.

It's not a film that cares too much about making sense of its plot (or its geography, language and context; the abduction of a Chinese operative would set off a storm of international dispute beyond imagination, let alone to have him being hunted down by a bunch of Southeast Asian lunatics) since the gist of it all is the action, which involves fist fights, spearing, knifing and machine gunning.

It revels in its action-flick clichés, which are supposedly sufficient for it to make rounds at international festivals and, later, cinemas in our region too.