"The Transporter may be the best integration of HK cinema style with non-HK actors in a non-HK production."
The Transporter (2002)
Director: Corey Yuen
Producer: Luc Besson, Steven Chasman, Steve Chasman
Writer: Luc Besson, Robert Mark Kamen
Cast: Jason Statham, Shu Qi, Tcheky Karyo, Francois Berleand, Matt Schulze
Running Time: 92 min.
Plot: Frank Martin is a professional getaway driver and deliveryman. Frank has strict rules. One of which includes not peeking at his cargo. Upon breaking this rule, Frank's life begins to spiral completely out of control with action-packed results.
MAIROSU'S REVIEW: You have probably heard the old saying that "two wrongs don't make a right", and you also probably had the chance to see that one work in practice. The Transporter , the latest MTV-action-quickie produced by the increasingly prolific Luc Besson, brings up a new theorem - that two rights, sometimes, make a wrong.
Directed by a veteran of the Hong Kong cinema, Corey Yuen , this film is centered around a ex-British soldier Frank Martin (Jason Statham), who is spending his days trafficking various cargo in southern France. He is a man with strict rules : no questions, no names, no looking inside the cargo. Troubles arise when one day he breaks the "don't look inside" rule and finds out he is actually smuggling a human being, an oriental girl called Lai (Qi Shu). Undaunted, he delivers the goods to the final destination, but his employer sees that he inspected his cargo and tries to eliminate him. As Frank is dodging bullets and fighting for dear life, he also tries to help Lai uncover a big slavery deal and rescue her fellow countrymen stuck on a boat somewhere on the Azure coast.
So, just like in previous genre efforts such as Kiss of the Dragon, Exit Wounds or Romeo Must Die, the story has been ignored in favour of rapid-pace action with original camera angles, editing and of course all sorts of hip new music to sugarcoat the whole products. Unlike the previous ones, which at least had the skills of Jet Li or more prolific fighting scenes with less music, The Transporter has nothing going for it, making it a predictably forgettable film.
It all starts brilliantly though - Martin picks up a gang of robbers and proceeds to dispatch them to the delivery point in a high-octane chase scene, in which he maneuvers his Bond-like BMW with the skill of a seasoned stunt driver. Then he returns home, retools his car and just as the engine of his beamer dies - so does the film. This is the most obvious case of deja vu combined with almost laughingly unbelievable action scenes, peppered with a brief touch of "Bondism" with all sorts of gadgets and an oriental girl to boot. Statham's character, a potentially intriguing lead, is an unfinished piece of work - we never get to see his motives or what keeps him going, or why he retired in the first place, while Shu as Lai is the clichéd female damsel in distress, serving mostly as a shallow plot device and eye candy. The bulk of action is bland and recycled, which really is the major letdown of this film, as the only two worthy scenes are the opening chase and a semi-comical fight in a puddle of motor oil (or something looking like that) near the end. And, there's also no Tchéky Karyo as the dominant villain - that role is split between Matt Schulze and Ric Young , and neither cuts it. Naturally, the plot and the development of it have been (ab)used countlessly over the past 30 years, but it would be unfair to dog this movie from that aspect. Rare positives of this film include a beautiful scenery of the French Riviera and some great car stunts, but that's really not enough to redeem this one. Of course, it might be just me, but this "overlong music video" action subgenre is wearing out rather quick. And must there be music during the every God damned minute of the film ?
To revert to the opening paragraph, The Transporter tries to combine the panache of the oriental martial arts films and the slickness of the modern actioners, but the final product is, this time, rather unsatisfactory. With Besson, who also co-scripted, slated to churn out at least ten more pictures like this, including a hilariously titled Danny the Dog Jet Li vehicle and an American remake of a French box office smash Taxi , the question is how long until the target audience reaches the saturation point and the industry finds another topic to exploit. I, for one, hope that happens as soon as possible.
MAIROSU'S RATING: 2/10
10 Things That Kinda Sucked About The Transporter
10. It's PG-13, which means a.) ironically, Lai (Shu Qi) doesn't get naked, b.) despite the often brutal combat, there's a noticeable lack of blood, c.) ironically, the sex between Lai and Frank (Jason Stratham) is merely implied despite the presence of two attractive actors whose previous roles have required them to be very, very bad, and d.) Shu Qi doesn't get naked. Not once.
9. The soundtrack seemed to borrow music from old episodes of Magnum, P.I. (Or Starsky and Hutch.)
8. The fight scenes are pretty limp, which was disappointing considering the blurb on the back of the DVD claims The Transporter is the "Flat out, hands down, the best action movie of the year!" (Guess the Orlando Sentinal doesn't get to the theater much.) Most of the fight scenes are over-choreographed and instead of being creative AND believable (think Police Story), they're simply silly and over-the-top. Blame Corey Yuen for this. (Bastard.)
7. Shu Qi's English is of the "flied lice" variety. This shouldn't have been distracting (she plays a character from China, after all), but she has a whole lot of lines in the film and every time she opens her mouth she can only manage a delivery like that of that annoying robot tot on the low-budget '80s sitcom Small Wonder. (Think Schwarzenegger's monotone in Terminator...minus every bit of inflection the android could muster.)
6. The script isn't too bad, but there are a few lines that left my fingers searching for the stop button on the remote. ("You're like dog shit! You're everywhere," and "I have to pee" are a couple of the character's first lines in the film. Now THAT'S character development!)
5. The guy that plays Shu Qi's father in the film is also the guy that played Jason Scott Lee's father in Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story. Nothing wrong with this, mind you. After all, typecasting worked for Jim Carrey. But the guy looks like he is made of wax. Seriously. He's like an Asian LaToya Jackson...sans breasts. And when he is chasing Stratham's character and leaning out of a car window and shooting sub-machine guns with toupee pressed firmly atop his scalp...it just didn't work for me, y'know?
4. Stratham's character is supposed to be a no-nonsense, ex-military guy with a rigid set of rules that dictate how he operates as a "transporter". The entire first scene establishes this. He even risks capture when a band of robbers he is responsible for transporting breaks one the rules. So when he opens the trunk of his BMW and sees a wiggling figure in a body bag, why the hell does he open it? It doesn't make any sense. Sure, they had to get Shu Qi in the film SOMEHOW, but introducing her at the expense of character development is shoddy storytelling.
3. Shu Qi doesn't get naked. (Have I said that yet?) There IS a millisecond long shot of her in wet panties (albeit granny panties...bastard costume director), but this is Shu Qi for chissakes!
2. There's a pointless and seemingly endless scene of Lai and Frank eluding death by scuba diving. The scene sucks all of the intensity out of the previous few minutes when Frank's house was obliterated by shoulder-fired missiles. Fully clothed, they strap on scuba tanks, dive beneath his house, swim for a bit, swim some more and emerge beneath Frank's OTHER house. How convenient! (Think Octopussy here -- or another equally bad Bond flick involving scuba diving.)
1. The film would have worked far better had Stratham's Frank been a bit more brooding and less goofy. Had the film adopted a more serious tone (ala Ronin and The Professional...two films with far better stories and superior action) and shoved the silliness aside, then the direness of Lai's predicament (her sister is trapped in a shipping container) and Frank's probably interesting history would have held more appeal.
ALEXANDER'S REVIEW: 6.5/10
NUMSKULL'S REVIEW: This movie is silly. Not Monty Python silly (that's good), but action movie silly (that's bad). While it's not as cheesy and derivative as The Replacement Killers or as mindlessly excessive as Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever (the two worst modern-day English language action films I can think of right now), it is unlikely to open a host of new doors for director Cory Yuen or star Jason Statham; they'll have to settle for the ones that are already ajar. And Shu Qi will most likely head on back to Asia and resume her garb-shedding ways (this is PG-13, so we just get a shot of her in wet skivvies).
The limp plot involves a transporter/getaway driver who suddenly decides to break Rule Number Three ("Never open the package") and gets involved with a girl named Lai and her efforts to break up the Chinese slave ring operated by her father (Ric Young).
Ric Young, folks: you wanted to bitch-slap him in The Corruptor, you laughed at his eagerness to get laid in Kiss of the Dragon, and you'll wonder which producer he had to go down on to get his role in this movie since he "acts" in such bland fashion that if people were ice cream, his flavor would be tap water. Of course, considering how crappy the dialogue and characterization in this film are, I guess that's not entirely his fault. Sorry, Ric. In a bad mood, that's all.
The other bad guy sucks.
Anyway...Jason and Shu have the prelude to an utterly pointless, out-of-the-blue sexual encounter (lest we forget: PG-13) and he gets in a bunch of fights. Statham handles his action and fight scenes well for someone not really associated with the genre, though his real-life past as a small-time con man may have taught him a few things about fisticuffs to fall back on. Cory Yuen shows a fondness for fights in narrow areas, and the oil slick battle is cleverly staged. However, the truck-hopping finale is uncomfortably similar to the Raiders of the Lost Ark bit that obviously inspired it, with Harrison...er, Jason struggling with the bad guys while trying to drive and so forth. Well executed, but far from original.
The musical score and soundtrack tend to sound out of place, and the volume in certain scenes is downright intrusive. This is a significant problem because two of the major performers (Shu Qi and Francois Berleand) have thick (but mostly legible) accents and the damn music drowns out their voices. But hey: at least it's not rap.
Statham's neat little castle by the seaside is the coolest thing in the movie. "I wanna live there," you'll say. And then the bad guys blow it up. Fuckers...
Better luck next time, everyone.
NUMSKULL'S RATING: 5/10
REEFER'S REVIEW: The Transporter may be the best integration of HK cinema style with non-HK actors in a non-HK production. Other recent productions that want to capitalize on the popularity of Hong Kong style action (the Rush Hour films, Charlie's Angels, The Matrix, etc.) seem hindered by the collaboration of its makers while The Transporter benefits from it. Luc Besson and Corey Yuen seem to mix styles with relative ease. Using Besson's characters and Corey Yuen-styled action set pieces, The Transporter should successfully keep a stranglehold on your eye sockets for good ninety minutes of good ol' fashion thrills.
Corey Yuen directs this film with reckless abandon, often losing his characters in the chaos of its action sequences. I found myself enjoying the ride, but ultimately forgetting what it is all about. Odd. Stacking each new fight scene or car chase almost on top of the previous one, Yuen smartly leaves the viewer few moments to consider the weak plot. In fact, I bet one could even watch these sequences without knowing anything about the story since they exist almost without any relationship to it. Even the finale, which has something to do with a container filled with people, doesn't even allude to their personal danger. Cory Yuen centers his story and his camera firmly on the surprisingly agile Jason Stratham. I am not sure if this is good or bad.
Luc Besson has made a living out of crafting hard-edged loners with a gift for violence into marketable heroes simply by adding one element: a cute female distraction (in this case, the very attractive Shu Qui) to their painfully orderly lives of crime. He did it for Jean Reno in 1994's Leon (a.k.a. The Professional) and he does it again here with Stratham. Each character is haunted by their pasts and each originally would rather be left alone and both find themselves compromising their own rules. I consider it a shame, though, that Besson didn't at least put some emotional meat on Stratham's bones. Like explain why that day, of all days, does Stratham's Frank Martin decide to break his own rules. We can only assume, because Besson's script offers us no clues. The only other difference between films here would be the storytelling tone. For example, if Leon' were Beethoven, then The Transporter would be Megadeth.
On that note, The Transporter also features some very poor choices of music to play during the fight scenes. During a few of the more complicated and acrobatic fights, there is this depressing, grungy guitar piece playing that just screams, "This is a serious life and death matter here!" Nothing like bogging down some wonderful choreography with something that you might euthanize a pet dog to! How about something lively for crissakes!
I was equally disappointed in the finale, as it was a direct rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark. I know the film was released twenty years ago, but here in the U.S., that film is hot dogs and apple pie. Untouchable. The Transporter, unfortunately, manages to go uncomfortably past homage in that respect.
When all is said and done, this is gonna be a star-making film for Stratham. His performance here, I predict, will bring back the tough guy roles that Eastwood and McQueen once inhabited. Guys who looked like they could chew granite. Not ones who look like they chew bubble gum. Welcome back, fellas.
Check it out.
REEFER'S RATING: 7/10