The Transporter (2002)

Rating: ***
Release Date: 10/11/02
Written And Produced By: Luc Besson
Director: Corey Yuen Kwei
Cast: Jason Statham, Shu Qi

A fun, but ultimately disappointing outing from Corey Yuen. Frank (super cool Jason Statham) is a retired military man who now spends his time as a top dollar courier. He's precise and detail oriented to a fault, which allows him to excel at his job. He keeps things simple and follows a strict code of conduct until a girl shows up in his life to complicate things. One of the packages Frank is hired to deliver turns out to be Hong Kong glamour-girl-turned-actress Shu Qi, and when he shows a shred of compassion and bends the rules, his world gets turned upside down and everyone wants him dead. Similar to Luc Besson's last Chinese/European stir fry "Kiss Of The Dragon" (2001), the majority of the film is one giant flight from persecution as Frank attempts to clear his name, seek revenge, and see justice done.

The premise here is nothing new, especially from Luc Besson. An older man making a modest, but emotionally empty living on the other side of the law gets into trouble when a manipulative woman disrupts his routine. Jason Statham is wonderful as the transporter - quiet, calm, cool, collected, intelligent, skilled, and a bad-ass fighter when it comes down to it. Unfortunately, Shu Qi is reduced to looking pretty and shrieking a lot. Probably not the best way to be introduced to American audiences. Luc Besson also injects an undercurrent of misogyny that I've been seeing more and more in his recent films. Interesting. The action scenes are very well staged and the martial arts choreography is great, as you would expect from master Corey Yuen. However, the cinematography is frustratingly bad, and most of the excitement of the action scenes is bled dry by jerky, claustrophobic camera work and machine gun editing. There is some very cool stuff going on in this film, but you can't actually see it. Pull back and use a tripod, people! That's what they're for! I would be SO much more impressed to have a single locked down wide shot of these two guys beating each other up for half a minute than to see 100 close-up flashes of frantic and confused arm flapping. One could argue that shooting close and in the midst of the action creates more tension and a sense of "being there," but I don't want to be there. I want to see what's going on. This popular sort of cinematography and editing attempts to create an emotion at the cost of obscuring the art, but it looks cheap and only succeeds in annoying me. But maybe I'm in the minority here. Fortunately, you can still get glimpses of brilliance here and there, and try to fill in the rest with your imagination. The music is also very disappointing, and either inappropriate or just plain bad. Still, if you're looking for a mindless action film, this one definitely delivers.