Friday, October 8, 2010

Leaps tall buildings in a single bound -- straight down

According to Siegfried Krakauer's theory of film, film has a natural tendency toward actualities, which is why it gravitates toward things like dancing, athletics and pornography. I often wonder how poor old Siggy would have coped with the age of CGI, which tends to contradict his entire theory.

But if you are of the Kraukauerian bent, or you just like cool stuff, you probably know about the sport of urban running called parkour, which is the basis of a series of films of which District 13: Ultimatum (2009) is the second (I'll be writing about the first one soon). They feature one of the founders of the sport, David Bell, seen in the clip above.

Here is Bell's co-star, martial artist Cyril Raffaelli executing what might be called Van Gogh-Fu:

D13: Ultimatum is one of the near-future, post-apocalyptic stories, which is mostly useful for ignoring questions of plausibility, not to mention using low-budget sets of half-destroyed buildings from the 70s and 80s, a sort of rubble chic.

There are a few flourishes that are fun but unnecessary-- Banlieu (District, or really neighborhood) 13 is ruled by five gangs, each of which has a colorful leader, each with his or her own style of dress and martial arts. In a way it feels extraneous, since it leads away from the parkour heart of the film, but since the sequences are well-executed, they're hard to resent. The only downside is that most of this of the various gangs and there leaders is crammed down to the end of the movie, but really, it's OK, because it left lots of time for Bell and Raffaelli to do their stuff.

It looks like there will never be another Real Jackie Chan movie again--he's just too old to do his thing with the speed and esprit that he did it, and the old stories used to patch together his movies are just too threadbare these days. That being so, the District 13 films--if they do prove to be a real series may be a reasonable substitute. Perhaps not the level of personal humor that Jackie brought--he usually started his films as a panicked, inept fighter, and the films had as much slapstick as fighting. But D13 has its own humor, mostly along the "holy-cow-are-they-really-going-to-do-that-I-can't-believe-they-just-did-that variety." Yes, there's some CGI, but it seems to be used as a way of executing the stunts under controlled conditions, rather than a tool for fakery.

Meanwhile, the Besson film factory continues to prove that neither Americans nor the Chinese have an exclusive on fast-moving, light-hearted action films, with nary a baguette nor a fromage in sight.

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