Banlieue 13


"Look for death-defying acrobatic stunts, including a riveting chase sequence throughout the entire ghetto; intense gun shoot-outs with showers of blood and bullets; and straight-up brutal martial arts violence."

- Raging Gaijin

Banlieue 13 (2004)

AKA: B13, 13th District, Thirteenth District, Barrio 13

Director: Pierre Morel

Writer: Luc Besson, Bibi Naceri

Producer: Luc Besson

Cast: Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Tony D'Amario, Bibi Naceri, Dany Verissimo

Running Time: 85 min.

Plot: See review below.

Availability: This title is available at


RAGING GAIJIN'S REVIEW: In the past few years, Luc Besson has seemingly depleted the good will and critical acclaim he garnered with his Hong Kong-influenced, modern masterpieces "Le Femme Nikita" and "Leon". His attempt at science fiction, "Fifth Element", has as many detractors as admirers; his Joan of Arc film "The Messanger" proved to be too esoteric for mainstream audiences; and, as of late, he has remained behind the scenes, writing and producing English-language films for HK superstar Jet Li, some of which are well regarded ("Danny the Dog"), others not so much ("Kiss of the Dragon"). Besson's biggest offense, however, may have been his purchase of the US/European rights to "Ong Bak" and subsequent Weinstein-like editing of the film.

Despite his rescoring and hacking of the movie, Luc Besson seems to be quite taken with "Ong Bak". His latest film, "Banlieue 13" often feels like a tribute to it, as though Besson watched "Ong Bak" and assembled a film crew as soon as possible in order to try to and recreate the energy and style of that film. In fact, "B-13" essentially plays out like a French homage to "Ong Bak". And while it probably won't inspire purists to forgive Besson for his transgressions any time soon, the movie is loaded with enough jaw-dropping stunts and action to make some martial arts fans let him slide.

So just what the hell is "Banlieue 13"? It's an action movie set in a near future France. There's a ghetto outside of Paris that has been barricaded and sectioned off, and designated for the criminal populace to reside in (sort of like a prison city a la "Escape From New York"). Unfortunately, an armored truck carrying a weapon of mass destruction was ransacked by gangsters from the city, and the dangerous missile is now somewhere in the ghetto. The government looks to the French police force's number one cop, a lean, mean bad-ass played by Cyril Raffaelli (one of the twins from the end of "Kiss of Dragon"). He's got a deadline to retrieve the missile before it explodes, but in order to do so he must team up with an honorable prisoner who knows the city like the back of his hand, played by David Belle. The two form an unlikely alliance and use their wits and fighting prowess to break into the prison-city and retrieve the WMD before all of Paris is destroyed. The story is admittedly hokey and ripped straight from a comic book but it serves the movie's purpose: to move our two buff heroes from one incredible stunt piece to the next as quickly as possible.

Once again, Luc Besson remains behind the camera, opting to write and produce "B-13", and lets his cinematographer from "Danny the Dog" and "The Transporter" handle the directing chores. Fortunately, Pierre Morel does a fine job in the director's chair. The film is intensely stylish right from the opening credits, but it's rarely distracting. This is because Morel and his team know how to film action: as befitting a tribute to "Ong Bak", every blow is lovingly rendered before the camera's eye. There's no sloppy editing or claustrophobic camera angles here. Of course, there's copious slow motion but that's to be expected. Fear not, "B-13" is the real deal. Look for death-defying acrobatic stunts, including a riveting chase sequence throughout the entire ghetto; intense gun shoot-outs with showers of blood and bullets; and straight-up brutal martial arts violence.

In fact, the action is so adrenaline-pumping and bone-crunching that I would have rewarded the film an 8/10 (also because the characters actually have defined personalities, unlike "Born to Fight), if it weren't for the weak ending. The last fight scene, if you haven't already guessed, is a fight between our two heroes, which is not exciting for a couple of reasons: 1.) We know that neither of them are going to really hurt each other, because they're both good guys and this is a buddy movie of sorts, and 2.) the two of them are so evenly matched that their fight becomes rather dull. We have two fighters who have about equal strength and agility and they're not willing to actually do any damage to one another. This was, simply put, a bad idea. It takes the excitement out of the last battle and the entire ending of the movie, which is in sharp contrast to the back-breaking finale of "Ong Bak".

A cartoon-y story, lackluster ending, and short running time (this movie barely clocks in at 80 minutes) detract from "B-13" as a whole, but the plentiful action and stunt sequences are so well-done and brilliantly that it earns a place next to "Born to Fight" as worthy follow-up to "Ong Bak". Besides, it revives the classic John Woo move where a character slides underneath a table and shoots through it with a machine gun. What other film of the past eight years has done that?

With each new Thai-inspired action film that comes out, it seems like the bar is being raised. "B-13" does a decent job of upping the ante and paying tribute to its inspiration. For once, the French have done alright.