It’s less than a month until the release of ‘Jailbreak‘, a major step in Cambodian action cinema. Mike Leeder talks to its director Jimmy Henderson…
January 2017 will see the release of the highly anticipated action comedy Jailbreak which looks set to raise the bar for Cambodian Action Cinema and features a very impressive cast that includes martial arts actor and stuntman Jean-Paul Ly (Doctor Strange, Lucy), Dara Our (Hanuman, Before The Fall), Savin Phillip (Hanuman), Tharoth Sam (female Bokator fighter and winner of 2014’s One FC MMA tournament)and making her full blooded action movie debut after a number of slick showcases for her fight skills (Heartbreaker, Burst, Dust Machine) is French Vietnamese actress Celine Tran (formerly the internationally recognized Adult Entertainment icon Katsuni)
The film’s official trailer has just been released (see below) and has us counting the days until the films release, so we thought it was high time we spoke to the film director Jimmy Henderson about how an Italian film-maker found himself in Cambodia as one of the driving forces behind contemporary Khmer-language cinema…
Jimmy Henderson: Cambodia Paradeso?
Impact: Jimmy, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you ended up making movies in Cambodia?
Jimmy: I’ve been in Cambodia since 2011. I left Italy when I was 20 years old and moved to London and that is where I fell in love with cinema. I met a cinephile friend and mentor of mine who introduced me to different type of films from all around the world. I bought a small DV camera and started shooting short films using my flatmates as actors. Over the next few years I taught my self cinematography and editing. The last few years in London were getting tough so I decided to move somewhere else. Luckily at that time I had a friend that lived in Cambodia so I packed my stuff and joined him. And I’ve been here ever since.
Jimmy: It was in January 2015, a month before the release of my first action film, Hanuman. I had a meeting with my local distributors and producers to talk about what to do next. We wanted to do an ensemble action film keeping it contained to one location. At that time we didn’t have a clear idea of what the movie was gonna be. And after months of brainstorming we came out with a concept and developed a script with my co-writer from Hanuman, Michael Hodgson. We were aiming to film in December but Jean Paul Ly was still busy shooting on Doctor Strange, so we moved it to June.
Jimmy: I wrote the script with some local actors already in mind. For Jean Paul Ly, he has been part of the development since the early stage. I met him during one of his trip in Cambodia in 2015. We got along right away. I could in his eyes, the passion of making this film happen and he never lost the momentum since day one. We couldn’t have done Jailbreak without him.
About Dara… he always been my muse and I’ve cast him and every film I made. He has the look, the fighting skills and the presence. He’s a mentor and a role model for his stunt team and he has been training and widening their skill set drastically since Hanuman. With regards to Tharoth, I used see her fighting MMA at One Fc. She’s fast and agile, she can climb on you in seconds and smash your head. It’s a pleasure to watch her fighting.
Celine joined the cast later on. Her character initially wasn’t scripted in the early drafts. But after seeing her action reel, I thought immediately that this is the piece we need to complete the puzzle. Her character helped us expand the script and to push it to a completely different level.
Impact: How would you describe film-making in Cambodia, there’s obviously so much potential but are there any frustrating aspects , is it a case of changing the rules, breaking the rules or making the rules as you go?
Jimmy: The film industry here is relatively young and it’s slowly developing. The country has a lot to offer but I always feel it’s not used at its maximum potential. A lot of local film-makers decide to follow a certain pattern that works here for the audience. So most of local films are more of the same. By making Jailbreak we’re breaking out from the norm. Nobody dares to make action films here anymore. The ones that have been made in the past have always failed at the box office. And now people are eager to see what will be the fate of Jailbreak. At the same time, a movie of this caliber has never been made in Cambodia, so there are a lot of expectations from it.
Impact: In addition to JP and a number of very recognizable names from Cambodian martial arts, the film will also feature Celine Tran? What role does she play in the movie and how did she get involved in the project?
Jimmy: Yes. Celine plays the leader of the an all-female vicious gang, The Butterflies. She’s a slick villain with a thing for whisky. She got involved thanks to you Mike! At that time at Hong Kong Filmmart, you showed us her katana moves in a short film made by our Dop, Godefroy. And as soon as we landed back to Cambodia we began to think how to get her on board and fit her character into the story. She came for a couple of weeks during pre-production to train on her choreography and she also had to learn her dialogue in Cambodian language. It’s pretty admirable the effort she put into the short time she had to do her fight and speak a language she never heard before.
Impact: What can the audience look forward to with Jailbreak?
Jimmy: Jailbreak is packed with action and absurd characters bigger than life. It’s a film that features many different fighting styles, from Bokator to MMA, from a variation of Russian Systems to Hapkido and wrestling. It’s for the martial arts geeks but also for the rest of the people that just want to have fun with a movie.