Banlieue 13 Review
Not content to let the crazy Chinese and Thais dominate the field of the action heroes who moves in death-defying ways, happily abusing stunt-men and props department alike, Luc Besson has been actively nurturing martial arts films in France. Banlieue 13 is perhaps a step forward and a step backwards.
The story begins as a re-tread of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, with a futuristic Paris suburb being walled off and surround by police due to the extremely high crime element. Leito is a resident of the walled-in Borough 13, and is the local John McClane vigilante to the drug gangs. The film opens with him fighting off one of the bigger gang armies because he stole their drugs and disposed of them down the drain. Revenge is taken on Leito when the gang capture his sister and hold her hostage. Enter Damien, a gung-ho (less colourful Snake Plissken) super-cop who needs a guide into the Borough to shut down a nuclear bomb which is in the possession of the same gang. The dynamic action duo combine forces, complete with bad oil-and-water buddy-acting. And the scenery chewing gang-leader, who has a penchant for randomly killing henchmen and his lumbering dim-witted second in command, appropriately named “K2” prepare for war against the pair.
With the exception of David Fincher-esque opening credits sequence, any scene not driving the ludicrous plot forward or leading into an action set-piece just does not exist in this film. Gone is the character driven aspects of the higher end Luc Besson productions such as La Femme Nikita, The Professional and more recently Danny the Dog. The movie runs a very lean 77 minutes and to be perfectly honest, if they further cut some of the bad-acting bits, could have been shorter.
Banlieue 13 does feel fresh from an action point of view. Luc Besson is not importing Jet Li or any Asian stars or directors for that matter, but rather relying on the home-grown art of ‘Parkour.’ As I understand it, Parkour is an acrobatic skill showcasing rapid climbing and incredible jumping of objects in an urban landscape. It makes BASE Jumping seem quaint. With the founder of the art, David Belle, playing Leito, and accomplished French stuntman Cyril Raffaelli playing Damien the action sequences are in the rarefied space accompanied by Jet Li, Donnie Yen, Jackie Chan and Tony Jaa.
Watching Belle scramble up, down, through, over, and under balconies, landings, windows, etc. certainly recalls early 90’s era Jackie Chan. Likewise, Raffaelli’s close-quarters fighting, particularly in an extended sequence in an underground casino, is as good as it gets, conjuring echoes of a flour-coated Chow Yun Fat in John Woo’s Hard-Boiled.
Trust me when I say there is nothing in this film beyond the stunts (to be fair, there is an amusing gag involving a pair of womans underwear). However, the big 4-5 action sequences in Banlieue 13 are filmed with rapid-fire verve.