Cambodian actor Jean-Paul Ly. Photo courtesy of FEFF
Cambodian actor Jean-Paul Ly. Photo courtesy of FEFF

How did you become involved in Jailbreak?

I had a call phone with Loy [Te], the producer. I knew him from before because, before doing stunts and working in movies, I was in business. I spent four years at business schools in Paris. I became a marketing manager and I was working in Cambodia. I quit that career, it was four years ago exactly, to do movies. I met Loy at that time and he wasn’t yet a producer. While we were talking one day, sitting in front of the river, Loy said, “One day I want to be a producer.” And I said, “Oh, I have quit my career to become an actor. Let’s make a promise. If you are able to become a producer, let’s work together.”

I went to London to do my work as a stuntman and two years later I contacted Loy and said, “I’m doing films.” And he said, “I’m doing Jailbreak, a film. Can we talk about it?” I went straight to Cambodia with him and we talked about that crazy idea, an action film in a prison. I met also Jimmy [Henderson], the director, at that time. I really appreciated what he did. I enjoyed his previous work. That’s how it happened.

Why Cambodia?

I am Chinese-Cambodian. That’s my origin. When the producer called me and said it was an action film, he was telling me that he wanted to showcase Cambodian martial arts using my skills, my experience from the Hollywood movies onward. I had to do it. This film is the first of this scale for Cambodia, so we are writing history for the country, for filmmaking. I want to be part of it. We are the first to do this.

What do you think the Cambodian cinema industry needs most?

Trying to do a film like Jailbreak is a big challenge because there was no action cinema industry and no stunt teams in this country. By doing this film, we are showing to people that such a film can go outside, go to festivals. We have been also to Montreal and other places. It’s a great example to show to the young generation of Cambodian filmmakers that it is possible to do cinema with passion. Jailbreak has been made with a low budget because if it is not easy to find funding for films here in Europe, it’s even worse in Cambodia. But it’s a great example to show that it’s possible. With Jailbreak we are trying to give a message to filmmakers and actors that it’s possible to make a project that can go worldwide. Some Cambodian filmmakers asked me, “How did you do this? Can we do the same?” Hopefully, they can do better than us. That’s the goal. I hope I can inspire. Instead of just doing horror movies, you can expand into action, drama, or thrillers. It is really up to you.

Jailbreak came out in Cambodia this January. What was its effect on the Cambodian audience?

The movie did quite well – actually, very well – in Cambodia. And it had a massive influence on teenagers. It’s really like New Wave, a new-generation wave. For sure, something has changed.

Jean Paul-Ly was speaking to Francesco Franz at the Far East Film Festival in Udine, Italy