The true story of Billy Moore, an English boxer incarcerated in Thailand's most notorious prison. Thrown into a world of drugs and violence, he finds his best chance to escape is to fight his way out in Muay Thai tournaments.
ActorsStarring: Joe Cole, Vithaya Pansringarm, Pornchanok Mabklang, Nicolas Shake, Billy Moore, Panya Yimmumphai, Somlock Kamsing, Sura Sirmalai, Sakda Niamhom, Komsan Polsan, Chaloemporn Sawatsuk
Generally I don’t watch trailers if I can avoid it, mainly to avoid spoilers. You shouldn’t really watch the trailer for this movie either – not so much because of any spoilers, but more so that it doesn’t quite represent the movie. It makes it look like a boxing movie that happens to be set in a Thai prison, but that doesn’t do the story justice, and it sets the viewer up with the wrong expectations. If anything, the ‘classic’ training and boxing sequences are the less powerful elements of this hard-hitting movie that tells the true story of Liverpudlian Billy Moore.
Billy (Joe Cole, Green Room) is a drugged up, hard-partying, small-time boxer who fights his days away in Thailand until his poor life choices end him up in a local prison. Clearly, this is not the kind of prison you would ever want to find yourself in. In movie terms, imagine a mix of the Turkish prison environment from 1978’s Midnight Express and the uncompromising violence of 2013’s Starred Up, both solid prison movies in their own right. As soon as Billy enters the prison it is clear that his jail time is going to be about survival over anything else. In an environment full of violent criminals, so jam-packed that they literally have to sleep together like sardines in a tin on the stone floor, in constant danger of another threat, another assault, another raping, Billy barely manages to stay alive, let alone sane. Billy uses his boxing skills and his street-smarts to find a couple of allies, but the danger and threats never subside. In the end he sees his best chances of survival in participating in the prison Muay Thai tournaments, hoping they somehow may offer a potential way out.
This movie is not so much about the details of the story as it is about the visceral experience it puts on the screen. It’s going for a realistic, almost documentary-like style; the movie was filmed on location in Thailand’s recently closed Bang Kwak Central Prison, and many of the prisoners in the movie are actual inmates. A lot of the dialogue is in Thai, with hardly any subtitles, making us as viewers feel as lost and uncomfortable as Billy; as he over time learns some of the language, we also see a few more subtitles appear. The photography is often handheld, with long scenes and a well-edited combination of short and long takes that do not shun showing the brutal and bloody violence that makes up Billy’s reality.
It is a movie that doesn’t shy away from exploring and exposing what we as westerners would consider an unacceptable prison system, making it a compelling and uncomfortable watch. Whilst we see -and feel- Billy The Survivor in this horrendous prison existence, the matter-of-factness with which the movie portrays everything also makes you feel a bit detached, which results in the film not really managing to grab you with its more humane sub-plots beyond the visceral imagery it pummels you with. That said, Joe Cole’s performance is impressive; the real Billy Moore makes a cameo appearance, playing his own father, as proof that he has, in fact, survived this incredible nightmare.