This Luc Besson produced, Parkour based actioner is a real kick in the ass. Pretty much 100% action, it’s especially successful as a Parkour style stunt-fest, showcasing the incredible physical skills of the founder of the urban discipline, David Belle as he works his way through, up and over a myriad of city obstacles. I’ve been properly fascinated by Parkour for some time now, so seeing it displayed in this sort of format was a real treat. On top of that there’s some nice martial arts work (more on that later) and even a nice gun battle or two to keeps things lively.
Parkour, for those unfamiliar with the term, is (to quote Wikipedia) “a physical discipline inspired by human movement, focusing on uninterrupted, efficient forward motion over, under, around and through obstacles (both man-made and natural) in one’s environment.” For readers of this site, the best thing to do thing might be to picture the kind of stunt work Jackie Chan does in films like Rumble in the Bronx– scrambling up and over things, jumping big gaps, etc. That’s a rough approximation of what to expect. Of course, there’s always youtube…
For the purists out there, yes, there’s a plot to this film, something about a bomb, David Belle’s kidnapped sister and the ghettoization of the Paris suburbs, but honestly the plot is only there to move the story along from one action scene to the next. It’s honestly like action framework 101- which is fine since it’s the action that’s obviously the draw here.
On the action, the main thing that stuck with me, beyond my gobsmacked awe at David Belle’s physical skills, was how similar the martial arts sequences are to those in Tony Jaa’s latest film, Tom yum goong. Both feature physically gifted martial artists (Jaa and here in District B13, Cyril Raffaelli) doing what seems like an endless series of flashy one and done movements. I didn’t watch either with a stopwatch or anything to time the more extended fights, but my takeaway from both films is almost all acrobatic or flashy single moves. Both films have the pace of samurai choreography, although both are much flashier than the typical samurai film. After watching Hong Kong choreography for as long as I have I expect a little bit more (let’s call it) narrative in my fights. I’m going to keep my eyes open watching international action movies going forward to see if this is an actual trend, or just a coincidence.
To wrap this beast up, if you don’t care about plot and don’t need your martial arts to feature Drunken Master 2 style extended choreography, then check this film out as soon as you’re able. It’s an exhilarating stunt-fest that almost begs for repeated viewings. In other words, it’s my kind of movie.
This review was originally published on DrunkenFist.com in June 2006.