Cambodian action-drama The Prey is distributed in North America by Dark Star Pictures and made its VOD release on August 25.
After being arrested in a massive raid, Chinese undercover police detective Xin (Gu Shangwei) finds himself incarcerated in a brutal prison tucked away in a remote jungle of southeast Asia, where the sadistic warden entertains wealthy, bloodthirsty guests by giving them the opportunity to hunt the ultimate prey.
The premise certainly isn’t new — in fact the manhunt subgenre is a favorite of mine, with modern action classics like Surviving the Game, The Running Man, Hard Target, and most recently The Hunt. Most of these titles borrow from the template set up in the original The Most Dangerous Game from 1932, with fun but rather obvious social commentary about power and oppression, and setting the haves against the have-nots.
The Prey takes that general idea and presents it in a way we haven’t seen before, transplanting it to the Cambodian jungle and peppering in martial arts and an undercover cop angle. One particular trait that differentiates it from many from other films of this type is its increasing sense of tragic collateral damage: whereas these stories are usually pretty self-contained due to their remote setting, part of The Prey’s escalation is that as the hunt goes on, additional characters enter the picture — both the civilian denizens of the jungle who get caught in the crossfire, and members of Xin’s police unit who come looking for him based on his last GPS coordinates.
Xin is a thinly constructed character; we know little about him aside from learning that he’s a skilled undercover cop, and out of his element as a Chinese person dumped somewhere in Southeast Asia, doubly challenged by being unable to understand most of the spoken dialogue around him. But this is a genre where that kind of characterization actually works quite well; the protagonist is less a fully formed character and more of an avatar for viewers to imagine themselves dealing with the situation.
While the film’s plotting centers on the use of firearms, it does take a couple opportunities for a smattering of martial arts throwdowns: a couple quick scuffles in earlier scenes prison and a later one-on-one face-off when ammo dwindles, staged against an incredible backdrop of roaring rapids.
The Prey may get overlooked based on its generic and familiar-sounding title, but I hope that won’t be the case as it’s definitely worth your time. Manhunt films are kind of like pizza — the great ones are incredible and even the below-average ones are pretty good. The Prey falls somewhere in the middle of that scale, delivering a weighty, enjoyable action film and some welcome variations on a familiar formula, even if it’s nothing mind-blowing.
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All 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from an online screener provided by the film’s distributor or publicist.