Review: District B-13 (2005)

Starring Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle

Fight Choreography by Cyril Raffaelli

Directed by Pierre Morel

It’s always refreshing to be introduced to a new style of martial art or some new form of movement. The latest craze is a style of free running called Parkour, created by Frenchman David Belle, one of the stars of the film. Not surprising, the craze really started after this film was released, produced by Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) and directed by Pierre Morel (Taken).

The film opens in Paris in the year 2010, where the roughest neighborhood, District B13, has been walled off from the rest of the city so the violence doesn’t bleed out into the rest of Paris. The opening is great as the camera darts all over B13 until we are introduced to Leito (Belle) a gang lord who does what he can to protect the community from drug lords like the biggest one, Taha. He takes the dope off of the streets, literally. We meet him after he as just ripped off Taha of a case of drugs, which causes K2, Taha’s lead charismatic henchman to show up with a group of thugs to get the drugs back. He outsmarts Leito’s men (which isn’t a difficult feat) and goes after Leito, and we are treated to the first parkour scene, a brilliant scene, perhaps really the first of its kind on film, and is simply a brilliant staging of camera and movement. You’ll be breathless at the end.

Afterward we meet Taha, and right from the Big Book of Villany he kills one of his own men for not having an idea on how to capture Leito. K2 comes up with the plan to kidnap Leito’s sister Lola in exchange for the money for the drugs Leito destroyed. Leito kinda figured they would do this, and ninjas his way into Taha’s place and takes Taha hostage just as Lola is delivered to him. Together with Taha they escape, chased by his goons all the way to the police station, only to find that the police are on their way out of B13.The lead cop frees Taha but captures Leito because he wants to return home os he can retire peacefully. Taha also takes Lola with him, and in return for his betrayal Leito gives the cop an early retirement present. A very permanent one.

Fast forward 6 months later, and we meet Damien (Raffaelli) an undercover cop in the middle of bringing down an illegal gambling ring. There is great humor here as the mob boss wonders why it is he can’t hire college educated henchmen, instead of the regular doofuses. FINALLY! I’ve waited years to see one baddie vent about this, and someone actually did it. He even said in this economy it should be easy. Right again! Before long he wishes he had thought of all this sooner, as Damien reveals himself, and the fight scenes in the casino are terrific, with Raffaelli showing the promise he displayed in Jet Li’s Kiss of the Dragon.

Afterward we get to the meat of the story: the government lost a small nuclear bomb while the top secret truck carrying it was going through B13. The bomb has found its way to Taha, who opened the case, starting a 24 hour timer before the bomb explodes, killing thousands within the district. Damien will need to go undercover using Leito as his guide to find Taha and the bomb. Leito is currently in prison for killing that cop, and Damien must first break him out, which he does as they are being transported to another facility. Leito gets Damien into B13, but figures out quickly that he’s a cop, and leaves his ass in the middle of gang territory after their van crushes the sports car of the lead gangster in the area. Damien eventually gets out of it, and finds Leito, and the two form an uneasy alliance once the stakes are laid out.

They allow themselves to be captured by K2, who takes them back to Taha, who wants 20 million in exchange for the bomb. To complicate matters, Taha has attached the bomb to a missile he had lying around(!) and has chained Lola to the bottom of the missle with a gas canister next to her. Damien tricks Taha into giving the account numbers for his money in the Camen Islands, but the police will not give up the money, but Damien doesn’t tell Taha this, nor does he tell Taha that he police went in to all of his accounts and cleaned him out. Damien and Leito escape after this, and head for the bomb. Once his accountant tells him about his money disappearing, we finally get the consequences of the whole “you failed to kill/capture so and so, so I’ll kill one of you to prove a point of how evil I am.” There should be an amendment in the Big Book of Villany that says you can do this-so long as you have the money to pay everyone else.Taha didn’t, and even K2 turns his back on him as his former henchmen blow him into a thousand pieces of little Taha. K2 finds himself the appointed leader, and sends the men out to get Leito and Damien. How often do you see the lead henchman become the main man? Hell, Darth Vader had the force and the Emperor still didn’t let his ass get near the Big Chair!

After another great Parkour chase they get to the building, but once they enter they find themselves having to contend with a final present Taha left them, a behemoth with the limited strength of the Hulk, but really, really slow. After they take him out, they get to the bomb and find themselves fighting each other to decide the fate of B13. Even though David Belle doesn’t know martial arts, the fight is not too bad, as each man uses he beliefs to fight to disable/maybe enable the bomb. Eventually the men who sent Damien on this mission get a surprise of their own when both men turn up on their doorstep.

Damien promises Leito that things will change, but we know that’s not true since District B13: Ultimatum has come out…

(On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best)

CHOREOGRAPHY: (6) I had wished there was more fighting with Cyril. He’s proven to be a great martial artist and I want to see more of him. What was there was great. There just needed to be more of it.

STUNTS: (8) Great stuntwork in the fights and parkour scenes. The falls were well done, Hong Kong style, and the parkour was breathtaking.

STAR POWER: (6) It remains to be seen. Cyril and David can either become major action stars or fade into oblivion from here. Cyril has been a thug in many films, and here he finds a film to finally showcase his skills. We need to see more of this guy!

FINAL GRADE: (7) A good film that introduced Parkour to the masses, and even action heroes like James Bond would find himself chasing guys like these around. Score another martial arts hit for producer Luc Besson.



  1. I haven’t seen this but I do like the 2 films that Besson produced starring Jet Li (Kiss of the Dragon and Danny the Dog). I think that Besson, unlike a lot of western film makers, has quite a good instinct when it comes to developing good martial arts films.


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