p style=”text-align: center;”>“A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN ”
Prison in Thailand, A True Story
“A Prayer Before Dawn” is based on the memoir written by Billy Moore in 2014 about the horrors of the Klong Prem prison in Thailand. It is the true story of a British boxer and heroin smuggler who, in Thailand, becomes addicted to ya ba (a particularly potent Thai crack cocaine) and makes a living selling drugs.
The punches and kicks and the torment from fellow prisoners at Klong Prem is the violence you’ll see in this film. The first time Billy Moore walked into his cell packed with seventy prisoners, the floor resembled a mass grave, with intertwined arms and legs, and the smell of human feces was so strong he almost vomited. That night, he slept next to a dead man. But the most horrific scene is in the boxing ring where the Thai brand of fisticuffs is called Muay Thai. It is Billy’s brutal gang rape that forms the prison’s rite of initiation. Though the editing is itchy, you get the point that you’re better off going straight all your life.
We don’t know why Billy Moore (Joe Cole) went to Thailand where he appears to be the only farang, or foreigner. In his memoir it says that he went abroad to escape a life of heroin addiction and alcoholism in England. Perhaps he thought that indulging in Muay Thai, which allows pugilists to use stand-up striking along with various clinching techniques, would draw the drugs out of his system. This discipline is known as the “Art of Eight Limbs” because it is characterized by the combined use of fists, elbows, knees and shins.
When Billy is not in the ring, he is tormented by the prisoners, who have contempt for a foreigner who doesn’t speak a word of Thai, has no money, allegedly has no family, and has no cigarettes to bum. The boxing is filmed in the usual way with restless editing, which may be necessary if you want your actors to emerge alive but which can nonetheless be frustrating. Some of the Thai dialogue has English subtitles but most of the palaver of the prisoners can be understood without translations.
The film is really about Billy’s redemption, a man who emerges after three years in a Thai hell-hole, then serves time in the UK.“A Prayer Before Dawn” shows Billy getting a legitimate chance to let it all out in the ring. In a final scene we see Billy’s father who in real life is Billy. Aside from Joe Cole the actors are all Thai and former prisoners.
The film is grueling and punishing but it is brilliantly done, and the kickboxing kid Joe Cole is a wonder. Director Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire’s film is a survival story. I understand that before filming started, Cole went through months of extensive boxing training and spent much time with the real Billy Moore and his family in Liverpool.
As I said, the film has a lot of strong violence, including a brutal male rape sequence, drug use and strong language throughout, with some sexual content and nudity. It is a depiction of the brutality of incarceration in Thailand. We are simply dropped into the thick of a disorienting situation with almost no preparation. Opening frames of deep breaths and preparations for a fight give way to a blur of fists as Billy puts the tools of his trade to crunching use. His moonlighting activity, the selling of Thai meth/caffeine concoction ‘yaba’ to dingy strip club goers, soon sees him arrested by the authorities and thrown on the back of a van. The camera follows Billy at close quarters at all times.
Who is this young man? How has he found himself in Thailand selling drugs? Where are his friends, his family? Though the slightest cracks in a stoical exterior will release tiny bits of personal information as his time inside wears on, no back-story is provided; all that matters from here on out is living day by day and, if necessary, hour by hour. The monotony and persistent danger of his situation are reflected in Cole’s extraordinary physical performance. This is in no way limited to his prowess in the ring, and is amazing to watch. Addicted to the drug that got him arrested, Billy’s blind fury and short fuse do not endear him to the heavily tattooed men with whom he shares extremely cramped conditions, sleeping cheek by jowl like sardines. By not subtitling portions of the early exchanges between Billy’s fellow detainees, Sauvaire effectively isolates him in ignorance as well as the claustrophobic confines of their overcrowded cell. A brutal rape scene, which Billy is forced to observe close at hand, makes the price of his silence shockingly clear. The guards show little mercy and their hypocrisy is typified by one of them running his own internal drug business, despite the ruthless punishment to which any abusing the substance are submitted if found in possession.
The heat, the violence, grimy conditions, bitter confinement and continual air of menace make this a debilitating, pulverizing two hours.