Director: Jimmy Henderson
Writer: Jimmy Henderson, Michael Hodgson, Kai Miller
Starring: Byron Bishop, Sahajak Boonthanakit, Nophand Boonyai, Vithaya Pansringarm, Gu Shangwei
Remember that breaking point, warden? I’m past it.
Adaptations of “The Most Dangerous Game” by Richard Connell are timeless. There’s 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game, 1945’s A Game of Death, 1993’s Hard Target, 1994’s Surviving the Game, and many more, including the upcoming(?) Blumhouse production The Hunt. Rich people treating the poor like animals continues to be relatable.
Jimmy Henderson’s The Prey is a standard take on the topic, but it switches things up in a number of interesting ways. The movie starts off with Xin (Gu Shangwei), an undercover cop, getting caught in a bust and being sent to a prison. Unfortunately, that prison is run by a Warden (Vithaya Pansringarm) who allows rich people to hunt some of his inmates for sport. The hunters are Mat (Byron Bishop), his nephew T (Nophand Boonyai), and the goofily-moustached Payuk (Sahajak Boonthanakit) — all of whom fall into fairly standard roles. Mat seems to be the level-headed expert, T is the young hotshot, and Payuk is the intense and overzealous one.
The movie is pretty interesting early on, even when you know where it’s going. The build-up — from Xin getting arrested, to the Warden taking the hunters’ money, to the selection of prey — was all very intriguing, helped in no small part by Pansringarm. He gave one of my favorite performances of the decade in Only God Forgives, but this role is completely different. He’s hamming it up and having a blast.
There are also a few early moments (the opening tracking shot, the prison fight) that reminded me of The Raid and its sequel, but unfortunately, The Prey doesn’t come close to those classics. I was actually a little disappointed with the actual manhunt. There’s a lot of carnage early on, and then we’re left with three prisoners running through the woods while the hunters try to track them down. The hunting is by-the-numbers and not very interesting, until things start to take a turn. It makes the hunt a little less interesting to watch, but I actually like that the hunters are kind of incompetent. They’re clearly rich assholes who are play-acting, so it makes sense.
It’s a mixed-bag when the plot veers off from the simple manhunt aspect. Xin’s fellow cops trying to find him adds a little tension, but it also feels very disconnected and over too quickly to ultimately matter. But the dive into T’s surprise history and roping in the poor villager and his son pays off and sets the film apart from other Most Dangerous Game knockoffs.
There’s a bit of a lull in the action (there’s a lot of hiding or just standing around and shooting a machine gun early on), but, once Xin starts taking on the warden’s henchmen, the movie starts to show off its action chops. I also like that The Prey has very visually distinctive henchmen. That’s something a classic like Die Hard knows to do, but most movies these days are more concerned with waves of faceless opponents and CG blood splatter. It’s nice to be able to see a guy with a blonde ponytail and a guy with two different eye colors and follow them in the background. It gives it some extra “oomph” once they actually face off with our heroes.
Speaking of our hero, I thought Gu Shangwei was very good as Xin. We mostly get to see him either trying to keep his cool in prison or in a desperate mode while on the run. I like when he’s desperate. He fucks up and makes mistakes, but he also gets lucky sometimes. He’s skilled, but it’s realistic that he’d rely on catching a break sometimes. The best fight scene involves him and a henchman in the river, and it’s brutal, personal, and a nice switch-up from the action that came before.
The movie is at its best when it follows odd tangents. There are strange hallucinations that really add to the personality of the film while also shading in a fairly archetypal character. I also think the ending is more contemplative and going for something more powerful than the build-up to it actually earned. I appreciated the reach, but I think it kind of slipped through their fingers. That said, it did make for a nice button on all of the action.
The Prey isn’t the best “rich-people-hunt-poor-people” movie I’ve ever seen, but it’s nowhere near the worst. It’s well-acted, well-directed, and anything that shows rich people to be the corrupt, incompetent assholes they are earns a recommendation from me.