Frank, the transporter of the title, breaks one of his own rules roughly a third of the way into the film: never open the package. He finds Lai (Qi Shu), a female hostage who he has to deliver to a crime baron type who has her family held in a shipping container, bound for black market slavery (or something to this effect). The plot doesn’t really go into the messy specifics of the politics of people trading and I never expected it to. It’s an excuse for an onslaught of sleek and swiftly executed action sequences with Jason Statham kicking and punching a lot of people in the process of saving the day. It’s preposterous, over-the-top and a lot of fun. We needed another Bruce Willis now that Bruce Willis is getting a bit too old for running around and slapping bad guys. Step up, Statham.
Through a commitment to its slimmed down narrative and maximum action quotient, The Transporter (Louis Leterrier/Corey Yuen, 2002) indeed transports us back to the kinds of mid-eighties Renegade-Operative-on-a-Mission style flicks that starred the likes of Arnie, Sly or Steven Seagal in their heyday (the soundtrack is full of cheesy ‘80s soulfullness, too, but with a noughties techno-glitchiness added to jazz it up and make the whole thing feel contemporary). But Statham’s no-nonsense quiet guy mumbles less than those near-fossils of action cinema, and is far more sleek and energetic, making this post-millennial update of those ‘80s films zip breathlessly past by confidently providing four or five major set pieces with a forceful efficiency.
Prior to acting Statham was an Olympic Diver on the British National Diving Team (finishing 12th in the World Championships in 1992) and he already has a background in martial arts, enabling him to perform the majority of his own stunts (it works well and he makes it look a breeze – aided by editor Nicolas Trembasiewicz’s swift cutting). Statham’s credentials goes far in showing us just how effortlessly he manages to kick ass: he makes every move, jump and spin count. To me, he seemed like the perfect contemporary action hero, blending no bullshit bravado with a measured stance on dishing out his brand of zero-fuss MovieWorld justice. He may be a bit shaky with the American accent at times, but that’s not really a concern: he doesn’t need to talk people down when a sharp chop to the face will suffice. And I never require plot exposition in films like this (who does?). I’ve always admired director-star combos who prefer swift pacing and a clear focus on the fundamental joys of the genre.
Of the set pieces an oil-covered bus terminal face-off (where goons attempt to get to slippery grips with a grease-smeared Statham), a four-way scrap in a shipping container yard and a thrilling getaway-in-a-lorry-hurtling-down-a-highway stand out – which is the most playful, ridiculous and absurdly entertaining chase I’ve seen since Licence to Kill back in 1989. And curiously enough, more often than not 50% of Statham’s wardrobe happens to go mysteriously missing during some fight scenes, giving them a slightly Fight Club-esque homoerotic tinge (enhanced by his apparent disinterest in the heroine, regardless of a reluctant one-off token sex scene) – and one dock-set scuffle is cheekily topped off with an underwater “kiss” between Statham a recently dispatched bad guy (submerged and desperately needing air, Statham locks lips with a drowned henchman!). It makes you think that the filmmakers were hinting at something that they dared not include overtly in the actual storyline. Hmm.
Although, in many ways, all we need to know is contained in the let’s-get-straight-to-the-point introductory scene. After some typically slick opening titles the camera immediately seeks out Statham as he sits in his BMW, impatiently waiting for the film to get going. It’s as if he’s a blank slate, and has no background: he’s simply a man on a mission, and whatever we might want to project onto him is welcomed by the filmmakers and gladly open to interpretation. He does his job, and he does it well. The same can be said of the film itself. The Transporter went on to spawn two sequels (in 2005 and 2008), and the only thing to be said about them is that they contain more of exactly the same, thank you very much.
© Craig Bloomfield 2009