STUDIO: Magnolia Home Entertainment
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
* Making Of
* Production Diary
* Music Video
* Deleted and Extended Scenes
Hey, you got parkour in my martial arts!
Hey, you got martial arts in my parkour!
Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval, Elodie Yung
Director: Patrick Alessandrin
Leito (jumpy) and Damien (kicky) are back at it in this much desired (by me) sequel to District B13, which drops the superfluous “B” from the title but wisely keeps the jumping and kicking. There is a plot, but do you actually care? If you said “yes,” than this may not be the film for you. Au revoir.
Though parkour (as an official discipline) is still relatively new, the idea of mixing urban monkey acrobatics and martial arts is obviously not a new thing. Jackie Chan made a whole career out of it. Yet parkour still remains a rather untapped form of movie stuntwork for how inherently cinematic it is. I think the opening sequence of Casino Royale is still probably the only place most people have even seen it. So I was quite pleased when I heard they were making D13:U, and though the film drops the ball in a few areas, it does deliver on the parkour.
Quick catch-up for those unfamiliar with the property…
Like seemingly all French action films, District B13 (a.k.a. Banlieue 13) was written and produced by France’s #1 son, Luc Besson. Set in near future Paris: crime had gotten out of control in the Banlieues – which are the areas on the outskirts of Paris, like our suburbs, but they are equivalent to our projects (middle-class peeps live in the city) – in particular Banlieue 13. So the French government built a wall around the area, and eventually a feudal Escape From New York world of gangs formed. Leito (David Belle) is a wily street rebel who lives inside B13, but finds himself in Parisian jail. Damien Tomaso (Cyril Raffaelli) is a Parisian supercop who is then paired with Leito 48 Hrs-style to head up a mission into B13. Friendship and asskicking ensues. The film’s hip selling point was its showcase of parkour and the casting of David Belle, widely regarded as the founder of the physical “artform.” Along with the original Ong-Bak, District B13 made a lot of waves in the action community, both films coming as a blast of fresh air after years of CG and wire assisted action films. Annnnd… scene.
D13:U picks up three years later. The story concerns a shady governmental agency known as DISS that has shady plans to level B13 (and its inhabitants) to build fancy condos for the middle-class. DISS sets things in motion by framing the citizens of B13 for murdering some cops, which causes some cops to murder a B13 citizen held in a border jail, which causes all hell to break loose. To prevent Damien the supercop from getting in the way, DISS frames him for a drug charge. From jail, Damien calls his old buddy Leito to come bust him out. DISS recommends to the French President (Philippe Torreton) that they just bomb B13, but the President demands an evacuation first, which gives Damien and Leito some time to take DISS down with jumping and kicking.
As a kid of the 80’s, today’s action film landscape just doesn’t feel right. It’s not that I dislike the prevailing superhero films, but they just aren’t the same. The Matrix changed the whole approach. Now we have Oscar nominees helming our action films, tackling martial arts and body building the same way they would being retarded or having an accent – it’s just something for them to temporarly master sufficiently enough for the film. Remember when action stars came with a built in shtick? I’m hugely buff! I’m an international karate champion! I won the gold medal in gymnastics! (Oh, Gymkata, I’m proud to live in a world where you really exist). Again, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with our current action films, or with action films that place story above the fistacuffs (Die Hard), I’m just saying I miss the action porno of yore. So films like D13:U hit me in the sweet spot.
David Belle and Cyril Raffaelli aren’t exactly Butch and Sundance, but they make a great action duo. Their shtick is a simple one: Belle is the smirky one and handles all his problems with parkour. Raffaelli (so embarrassingly wasted in Live Free or Die Hard) is the serious one and handles all his problems with ass-kicking. (Both handle their respective choreography too.) Throw some trouble their way, mix in a smattering of gunplay and a car chase – Yahtzee! You got a movie.
D13:U starts things off right with a big and silly set piece featuring Damien single-handedly taking down an entire nightclub full of gangsters. And when I say silly, I mean Damien is dressed as a sexy woman, but before his face is revealed the part is very clearly played by an actual sexy woman. The epic fight scene that ensues is delightfully fluid (no jumbled Ridley Scott quick cuts here) and inventive, built around the gimmick of Damien trying to protect a priceless Van Gogh while beating the shit out of a room full of goons – an appropriately French thing to do; they did after all expend significantly more energy protecting their artwork in WWII than they did their Jews (oh snap!). No, seriously folks, the French are great. I luv ya guys. Tip your waitress.
There is also a fantastic and lengthy parkour chase with Belle and a fun escape/heist that climaxes in an indoor car escapade. Then unfortunately D13:U makes the one mistake a film like this mustn’t dare… it gets bogged down in story. According to the special features the film’s story is a commentary on the 2005 riots in France, which were sparked by tensions between police and the teens of Paris’ real housing projects (which aren’t surrounded by walls). So maybe this stuff played better in France, but I doubt it. An action film is an action film is an action film.
“This place has everything.”
After Leito and Damien escape back to B13, they assemble a veritable fellowship of the ring, comprised of the leaders of each ethnic gang: the Asians, the Blacks, the Muslims, the Skinheads, and what I think was either Italian or maybe Spanish (they didn’t really say). This could have been a solid gimmick, but it was too close to the end of the film, and after the big build up of forming the team, they don’t really do much of interest. In fact, the biggest fight sequence in the final third showcases Tao (Elodie Yung), the female leader of the Asians – who is a fun character with an awesome look – and it is flat out embarrassing. Yung clearly can’t fight – it’s almost laughable watching all the stuntmen let her knock them down – so the whole thing is incredibly stagy and hacked up with cuts. The fight would probably fly in a regular Hollywood movie starring Cameron Diaz or someone, but after an hour and a half of Belle’s monkey-work and Raffaelli’s precision martial arts, you can’t just toss in an amateur – I don’t care how badass the character is.
Worse yet, the climactic confrontation with DISS is a real limp dick. Lots of speeches and sophmoric moralizing. Snooze. Where was my final showdown? Sure our villain was a slimeball bureaucrat and not a ninja master, but that wouldn’t have stopped Steven Seagal from beating him in the face with a frying pan (you see Out For Justice? William Forsythe barely even fights back, man).
Despite a disappointing final third, the prior portion of D13:U is a big win, especially for anyone like me who just wants to see some French dudes jump across rooftops and kick fools in the face. Hopefully next time they can keep the magic going into the finale.
FYI, the default setting is to automatically play with the American audio dub, which has to be one of the worst fucking dubs I’ve ever heard in my life. Positively awful. The bonus features are pretty nice, including both the French language behind-the-scenes and an HD-NET featurette which show a lot of the stuntwork planning.