Crime thriller Kajínek breaks box office record

In the first two weeks of its showing, the new Czech film Kajínek has shattered all of the country’s previous box office records. The ambitious home-grown take on the crime thriller genre, based on the story of convicted contract killer Jiří Kajínek, received massive promotion but its popularity has also been fuelled by persisting doubts about Kajínek’s guilt.

Jiří Kajínek was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of two figures of the underworld in 1993, and seriously wounding another one. But he always maintained his innocence, and his claims, as well as several ingenious prison breaks, have made Jiří Kajínek the Czech Republic’s most notorious convict, and people are flocking to cinemas to see his story on screen.

Kamil Fila is a film critic for the news website he says there are several reasons behind the film’s outstanding performance at the box office.

“One of them is that the film has been given massive promotion, linked to the tabloid daily Blesk. They also managed to involve other media as well that immediately began running stories on the Kajínek case, which means they in effect brought the case itself into the spotlight.”

Petr Jákl,  photo: CTK
Kamil Fila says another important factor is that the movie is distributed in 80 copies, compared to the 30 or 40 copies other Czech films usually come out in. Also, the film’s director, Petr Jákl, learned the ropes while working on several Hollywood productions shot in the Czech Republic in the past.

“The filmmakers attempted a super-stylized, genre movie, as stylized entertainment. This is pretty much unparalleled in the history of Czech cinema, and it is perhaps the first Czech film that looks like a Hollywood-style action movie. The problem is that the story itself, although it might appear very dramatic in the Czech context, does not have the potential for a proper action film. That’s where the film fails – in the choice of how the story should be told.”

Radek John,  photo: CTK
But it’s Jiří Kajínek’s claims of innocence that have grabbed the attention of many Czechs. According to a survey that came out two days before the premiere of Kajínek, more than 86 percent of those polled said the police should reopen the case, which may well happen since the police are currently looking into new evidence in Jiří Kajínek’s favour.

The film also owes part of its box office success to a curious coincidence: Radek John, the former editor-in-chief of the investigative TV show that first questioned the outcome of the Kajinek trial, is now the Czech interior minister.

He attended the film’s premiere in Prague last week, and said he hoped the new evidence would eventually lead to a re-trial. But Jiří Kajínek’s attorney, Klára Slámová, remains level-headed.

Klára Slámová

“Only the court can re-open the case, or more precisely, to quash the verdict as soon as a new motion for re-trial is filed. In this respect, the film has had a positive impact because it further reinforced the public view of the Kajínek case, although it’s true that most people sided with him even before the movie came out.”

Klára Slámová says she will file for re-trial in several months’ time on the grounds of the new evidence that has emerged. Meanwhile, a Czech betting agency is giving 20:1 odds on Jiří Kajínek walking free next year.