Cambodian movies: Jailbreak


Top rate action, amazing direction – a Euro/Khmer production that highlights the power of Khmer martial arts.

Movie making in Cambodia had its heyday in the 1960s when local film makers cranked out love stories, legends and ghost tales, as well as comedies.  All that was nearly wiped out during the Pol Pot years.  But after a wave of movies dealing with the horror of the Pol Pot years, a young generation of movie-makers is connecting with other people relatively new to movie-making, and the results are spectacular.

For those who like action the 2017 movie, Jailbreak is astounding.  It is a simple story that portrays a team of Special Task Force Officers who have been tasked with getting a gang leader out of prison and delivered to witness protection after he turns snitch. But the gang headed by The Madame (Celine Tran) has other plans, and soon, following her orders, a riot ensues in the jail leaving the Special Task Force officers trapped in the prison and fending for themselves.

Jailbreak is a  a no-frills film and the set is used and reused to denote different locations – so the feeling is a little claustrophobic – but that doesn’t matter. In showcasing the Khmer fighting style of bokator the viewer will be pummeled and amazed much as they were with the Thai hit Ong-Bak.  No CGI here – these fights are the real deal. The camera puts you right in the middle of the action.

Director Jimmy Henderson has put together a sharp, explosive entry that the Cambodian film industry can be proud of.

Link to trailer of Jailbreak

One of my favourite Cambodian bloggers Santel Phin listed his 10 recommended movies for those new to Cambodia. 

Cambodia – film archives released by Pathe


Before television International News was seen at the movie theatres around the world thanks to newsclips shot by international organisations such as Pathé. Prior to seeing the main feature film, cinema goers were treated to sights and sounds from around the world. Well good news, much of the old black-and-white footage has been rediscovered and restored by Pathe themselves, and this week they released 80,000 film clips to YouTube, many from Indochina.

The footage includes what documentary makers might call pickup shots; backgrounds and scenes that themselves do not have much news value, but allow the filmmaker to set the scene. A lot of this footage has no sound, and in fact when Pathé put together their short news films for the cinema circuit they were heavily reliant on music and on voice-overs scripted by people who had never, apparently, been overseas themselves.

One of the short films released this week is an account of the annual paddle race at the Phnom Penh; 1945. The footage is exciting, and quite telling – revealing French and British troops in attendance. The voice-over makes no reference to the fact that western Cambodia had been annexed to Thailand at the time. It seems these news stories had no time for actual news! And unfortunately the scripted voice-over, in that British broadcasting voice characteristic of the day, is ugly, dishonorable and condescending to say the least. A lot of the “facts” are simply made up.

However, if we can look past this appalling example of colonialism, and turn down the sound then an interesting experience awaits. Some of the footage, the earliest being shot in 1910, connects modern Cambodia with life in the early to mid 20th century. It gives pause for reflection and inevitably asks the viewer; how has Cambodia changed? In what ways is Cambodia now different?

Here are just three links to this footage.


For more stories about Cambodian film:

Cambodian Zombies – they’re here!


Cambodia had a thriving film industry in the decades before Pol Pot, but today the low entry price of digital is enabling the Khmer film industry to find it’s feet…and other missing limbs. Run is the first ever Khmer Zombie flick.

The nascent Cambodian movie industry is finding its feet at present – as well as a few other stray limbs and severed heads. This last month a new local movie has been launched successfully: a zombie flick that cost $10,000 to shoot. The name of the movie is “Run.”

Come view the trailer. (CLICK HERE)

While Cambodia has a strong history of ghost movies and supernatural tales, this film represents a 21st Century departure for the once thriving film industry – borrowing heavily from the western Zombie tropes, but putting a Khmer spin on the storyline. The Cinematography is by a western cameraman, but the movie is distinctly a product of Phnom Penh. Watching the trailer I couldn’t help but think that the zombie virus is a metaphor for many other things (corruption, western values, civil unrest) just as surely as those American-made 1950s Monster from Outer Space films were a metaphor for the lingering Communist menace of the time.

The movie features an ex-champion Khmer boxer, and at least one zombie victim who – in reality – lost limbs in landmine accidents. A black reminder of other forces that once invaded the Kingdom of Cambodia.

See more about Cambodian Movies.