Very Familiar Story Yields an Equally Familiar Film
I remember reading The Most Dangerous Game when I was in the seventh or eighth grade. It’s a short story by Richard Connell that was first published in Collier’s on January 19, 1924. In the story a big game hunter falls off a yacht and washes up on the shore of an apparently abandoned island only to find himself being hunted by another wealthy sportsman. At the time, the uber wealthy were traveling to Africa and South America for extravagant big game hunting trips. So, the story was partially an adventure/thriller and partially social commentary about turning the tables on the privileged classes of society.
In 1932, The Most Dangerous Game was adapted for the big screen with Joel McCrea and Leslie Banks as the leads. Since that time, the premise of a wealthy man literally hunting other men has been used as the basis of countless motion pictures: A Game of Death (1945), Run for the Sun (1956), Hard Target (1993), Surviving the Game (1994), etc. The commentary of social status remained intact with all of these motion pictures involving the hunting of prisoners or other members of lower socio-economic status.
In The Prey, a new film from writer-director Jimmy Henderson, the same mythology from The Most Dangerous Game is transplanted to the forests of Cambodia where Xin (Gu Shangwei), an undercover member of international law enforcement is arrested and jailed while preserving his cover as the member of an organized crime cell. Before his police colleagues can obtain his release, Xin is swept up in the warden’s corrupt scheme that provides inmates for wealthy men to hunt down and kill. Xin survives the initial slaughter, flees into the woods and is forced to confront his pursuers to ensure his survival.
The villains are straight out of bad guy central casting. We have the wealthy civilian with no morals dressed in safari tan clothing, hunting men as part of a bet. We have the former military operative and his security team who look like the Euro trash villains from every 1990’s action film ever made. And then we have the mentally imbalanced sociopath who has clearly spent time in a mental health facility. He’s the character I refer to as The Wild Card. His motivation doesn’t have to make any sense and his actions can come out of nowhere because, well, he’s crazy, ya know.
The biggest sin an action movie can commit is having average action. Leading man Gu Shangwei clearly has martial arts chops, but none of the fight sequences last long enough to allow any creativity to creep in. A punch or a kick quickly dispatches an opponent, and it’s on to the next showdown. Some Rambo-style creativity with booby traps and improvised weapons would’ve been welcome. Unfortunately, when Xin kills some of the armed participants, he (wisely) snatches their weapons and generic gunfights ensue.
I don’t mean to sound harshly dismissive of the film. The Prey has solid production values. It’s not a low-budget B movie. However, its very common premise combined with its by-the-numbers action sequences relegates The Prey to the “mindless action movie” bin. Netflix and VOD rental platforms offer dozens of films just like it. If that’s your jam, then you’ll find plenty to enjoy. If you’re looking for this year’s action sleeper (like The Raid in 2011), you’ll need to look elsewhere.