Review: ‘The Prey’ (2020), starring Gu Shangwei, Vithaya Pansringarm, Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Nophand Boonyai and Rous Mony

October 31, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rous Mony and Gu Shangwei in “The Prey” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

“The Prey” (2020)

Directed by Jimmy Henderson

Cambodian and Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Cambodia, the action flick “The Prey” features an almost all-Asian cast (with one white person) representing law enforcement, criminals and the wealthy.

Culture Clash: An undercover cop from China is arrested and sent to a Cambodian prison, where he is selected with other prisoners to be part of a deadly game for wealthy men who want to hunt humans.

Culture Audience: “The Prey” will appeal primarily to people who like pulpy action movies that are very formulaic and don’t do anything original.

Pictured in front, from left to right: Nophand Boonyai, Byron Bishop and
Sahajak Boonthanakit in “The Prey” (Photo courtesy of Dark Star Pictures)

The good news about “The Prey” is that it’s an action film with a plot that’s very easy to understand. The bad news is that the plot is so simplistic, it’s dumbed down to the lowest common denominator and it becomes yet another generic action movie that does nothing to progress the genre. Even with the usual suspension of disbelief that’s required for movies that rely heavily on flashy, choreographed stunts, “The Prey” is very unimaginative and predictable, as it recycles ideas and concepts of movies that have done these gimmicks before and done them better.

“The Prey” (directed by Jimmy Henderson), just like any movie about rich people who hunt humans for sport, is loosely based on “The Most Dangerous Game,” the 1924 Richard Connell novel that was made into a 1932 movie of the same name. Henderson wrote the unimaginative screenplay for “The Prey” with Michael Hodgson and Kai Miller.

The protagonist of “The Prey” is Xin (played by Gu Shangwei), a cop from China who’s doing undercover work in Cambodia to bust a Mafia phone scam operation that’s targeting Chinese citizens. Xin is apparently so good at his job that he’s mistaken for a real criminal, and he’s arrested and thrown in a prison in Phom Penh City, Cambodia. The obligatory prison fight scene with Xin and another prisoner then ensues.

The prison warden (played by Vithaya Pansringarm), who doesn’t have a name in the movie, is a sadistic and corrupt tyrant who doesn’t hesitate to torture any prisoner who shows signs of rebellion. As soon as there’s a scene with an announcement blaring to prisoners over the public-address system that anyone who doesn’t follow orders will be “reformed,” you just know that Xin will do something to get punished, so that the movie can have the inevitable prisoner torture scene. Xin is hung upside down and given electroshocks, as the warden gleefully oversees this punishment.

An unintentionally laughable scene in the movie is when all the prisoners are gathered in a courtyard, and instead of getting some exercise, they all break out into choreographed fights. It looks like this prison has locked up a bunch of stunt men, not real criminals. This fight sequence is contrived for the movie because it’s the scene where a group of wealthy men, who’ve been invited by the warden to the prison, can observe how the prisoners fight.

Unbeknownst to the prisoners, they are being evaluated because the rich guys want to choose the prisoners who will be taken to a remote jungle and hunted by the wealthy men. The warden gets paid a hefty fee to hand over these prisoners for this deadly game. Some of the warden’s closest prison cronies know about it too. According to the warden, the location where the men will hunt has about 30 kilometers of wilderness in every direction.

There are about 10 of these wealthy men who are participating in this killing spree, but three of the men consider themselves to be the best hunters in the group. Of the three men, Mat (played by Byron Bishop), who’s in his 40s, is the one who knows the warden the best and has participated in this hunting game before. Mat introduces the warden to two of the other members of the hunting team who are also very competitive about which one of the group will kill the most prisoners.

Payak (played by Sahajak Boonthanakit) is a middle-aged guy who tends to be a bit pompous, while T (played by Nophand Boonyai) is Mat’s cocky nephew who is in his 20s. T has recently inherited a fortune from his late father, who was Mat’s brother. Mat and T don’t particularly get along because Mat thinks T is an entitled, spoiled brat. It’s also revealed later in the movie that T’s own father didn’t respect T either. T is determined to “win” this game by killing the most prisoners because he wants to show his uncle Mat how tough he can be.

It should come as no surprise that Xin is one of the approximately 10 prisoners who are chosen for this homicidal game. The prisoners are taken to the jungle, where they are lined up and told to run away. One by one, all of them are shot to death by the hunters, except for Xin and another prisoner named Mony (played Rous Mony), who gets injured when he is shot in the leg.

Xin and Mon escape deeper into the jungle, and the rest of the movie is a life-and-death battle between the hunters and the hunted. Of course, Xin and Mony don’t stay unarmed for long, so there are the inevitable shootout scenes between the hunted and the hunters. This movie is so filled with stereotypical tropes, you can easily predict that the story’s hero is the one who’s the least likely to get shot.

The hunters split up to find their prey, and T accidentally falls into a deep hole, and he can’t get out on his own. A local man named Chay just happens to be walking nearby with his mute son Sambath (played by Nget Kakada), who’s about 12 or 13 years old. T shouts for help, and Chay rescues T from the hole.

T asks Chay if he would like to help him find some people in the jungle. Chay is reluctant to help, until T flashes a wad of cash to offer to Chay, who changes his mind when he sees how much he’s getting paid. T says that he can pay more money after they find the people he wants to find.

Meanwhile, two of Xin’s law-enforcement colleagues at China’s Ministry State of Security have noticed that he’s gone missing and they try to find him. Inspector Wong (played by Jai Ling) and Detective Li (played by Dy Sonita) have figured out that something probably went wrong with Xin’s undercover work. Through GPS tracking and some investigating, they discover that Xin was taken to the prison. But when they interview the warden and show Xin’s photo to him, the warden lies and says that he’s never seen that person before and that Xin was never in the prison.

The action sequences in “The Prey” are nothing special. And no one in this movie seems to have a distinctive personality, except for possibly rich kid T, who’s very insecure about proving himself in trying to be the most ruthless killer in the hunting group. A movie like this doesn’t have to go deep into character development, but it should at least make more effort to have action sequences that do something unique and don’t insult viewers’ intelligence. 

One of the worst sequences is when Xin is cornered by one of the armed hunters near a waterfall. Instead of shooting Xin, the hunter puts aside his gun and decides to do hand-to-hand combat with Xin. It seems like the filmmakers knew that if all the hunters acted the way real hunters would act, everyone would be dead too quickly and there wouldn’t be enough time for a feature-length movie. The most violent scenes in the movie are utterly generic.

“The Prey” also has the same outdated stereotypes of action films that only have one woman in the entire cast. Detective Li just happens to look more like a model than a police investigator. And when Detective Li and Inspector Wong end up in the jungle too, she’s dressed like an office worker who’s about to have lunch with some corporate colleagues rather than someone who’s prepared to spend time in the rough terrain of the wood.

If you want an embarrassingly cliché action flick that has no memorable characters and an extremely derivative story, then “The Prey” should fulfill those expectations. But if you prefer action movies with people who have actual personalities and a compelling plot, then don’t waste your time with “The Prey.”

Dark Star Films released “The Prey” in select U.S. virtual cinemas on August 21, 2020, and on digital and VOD on August 25, 2020.