Just saw the Luc Besson produced District 13. This is one of the better action films I have ever seen. Its French which is how it might have avoided the usual cliches of the goodhearted idiot sidekick, even one “I’m too old for this shit” or any cool living pad of the main guy (though they do like to hold their guns Woo sideways).
I’ve always liked Besson as a director right from his first film, the black and white and silent but for one word apocalyptic Le Dernier Combat (also one of Jean Reno‘s first films) through Leon the Professional (with Natalie Portman and that interesting and intriguing glance at prepubertal sexuality, one of the best big screen science fiction films Fifth Element (with one of the few arias that I like), and he has ended up producing a few good action films as well (Kiss of the Dragon, Wasabi and Ong-bak).
This film has two accomplished athletes as the leads and it shows. David Belle, the premier practitioner of parkour (urban gymnastics) and Cyril Raffaelli, more than competent in parkour as well as in wushu.
Belle is movie punk handsome while Cyril looks like a mashup of Jason Streatham and Chris Elliot but with the moves of Tony Jaa. (Given his face, I doubt if he would have been given this role in Hollywood but that’s their loss).
For a taste of his abilities and a little look at parkour off the screen:
And for a nice clip from District 13 of Belle being chased:
It makes me think this is the modern juiced up version of Harold Lloyd‘s death defying stunts in the silents. None of this is available for embedding so you have to follow the link.
Parkour has been making its way into all the action films lately (the first chase scene in Casino Royale, the Moroccan fight scene in Bourne Supremacy), and its a welcome change from guns firing. There is something about actual dramatic human movement in films (like the running in Apocalypto and such films) that gets the blood going more than fingers on triggers. These sorts of action film glory in the movement of flesh, how bodies turn in mid air, the grace of physical combat rather than metal through skin and exploding red bits of brain and deification of firepower. And the emphasis is not on machine like bodybuilder tanks but on flexible physiques. Muscles always but as the song says ‘its not the meat, its the motion”.
And that’s why we will continue to have martial arts in film even if nothing really would beat a gun or a grenade. There’s no poetry in ammo. These fight scenes verge on abstract when most of the moves are visually arresting rather than really practical. And if you take the recent cliche (most manifest in the Matrix films) of the fighter to actually bend the laws of physics and suspend time. Neat tricks but they are more in the service of beauty than deception.