Archive for the Luc Besson Category

Review: District 13: Ultimatum (2009)

Posted in Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Luc Besson with tags , , on August 2, 2012 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, MC Jean Gab’1, Elodie Yung, Philippe Torreton, Daniel Duval

Fight Choreography by Cyril Raffaelli

Directed by Patrick Alessandrin

Luc Besson produced a hit with the original District B13, which gave perhaps the best showcase of parkour (free-running) in film to date. The film revolved around uptight cop Damien Tomaso (Raffaelli), who must get into a walled-off slum district in Paris to stop a local drug lord from selling a nuke, one that he received unbeknownst to him from members of the government themselves in an attempt to wipe out the population of District B13, the only way they believe they can eradicate the bad elements–by wiping everyone out. Damien succeeded, with the help of gang leader Leito (Belle), who was looking to save his sister from the drug lord. At the end the French government promised to take down the walls and rebuild the post office and schools. Damien promised he would make sure the government kept their word.

That didn’t exactly go as expected…

Fast forward to three years later, and District 13 is now as jacked up as ever, even worse as new gangs run the city. Leito now detonates bombs to create holes in the giant wall, and, in a fun opening chase, draws the ire of the police. Damien, meanwhile, is still doing whatever it takes to get the bad guys, even dressing up as a transvestite in order to get close to one, but finds his success a double-edged sword as he is set up by DISS (The French version of the FBI, I suppose) to take the fall for drugs found in his apartment. At the same time, the DISS murders two police officers, and then set the car with the bodies nearby a local gang hideout in District 13. What they don’t know is that a group of youths recorded the murders, and attempt to get the proof into the hands of Leito, who must break Damien out of jail first, before gathering all of the gangs, one in particular led by the beautiful but deadly Tao (Yung) to give a final assault on the Capital building in Paris where a reluctant President is being goaded by his military commanders and the head of DISS to fire a missles from attack choppers to destroy the corrupt and “evil” District 13. Damien and Leito must fight their way to the President, but are they wanting to stop the President or help him destroy District 13?…

This is a much bigger film in many respects from the original, and the story is tighter, but there were characters like K2 and Taha and Lola from the first film that I really missed in this one, and the void they leave isn’t really filled. Not that there would be much time for that as Patrick Alessandrin keeps things moving at a brisk pace, moving even faster than the first film, hitting many of the story beats of the original, perhaps too much. The opening fight between Rafaelli and the club thugs over a painting is fun but not as humorous as the opening of District B13 in the illegal casino hall. The same goes for David Belle’s first run, where the police chase him, isn’t the jaw-dropper that the run in the first film was, but they make up for it later with an extended chase across rooftops that surely caused many of the stuntmen to pay their chiropractor or massage therapist extra, and Cyril has a great fight versus the police in the scene where he tries to escape the police station. Bigger is the word here, and the finale, where you see dozens of parkour practitioners scaling the walls of the capital building is a site to see. Rafaelli and Belle inhabit the skins of their characters again with ease, and MC Jean Gab’1 is a lot of fun as well, but Elodie Yung almost steals the film away as Tao. She’s a tattooed deadly beauty, with long ponytailed hair that have blades attached to the ends, which she uses rope-dart style to fight her opponents. Tao would’ve made an awesome evil Bond girl!

The fights, once again choreographed by Cyril, very much have a late 80’s, early 90’s Jackie Chan style about them. It’s both playful and painful to watch, as stuntmen bounce off of a bunch of things, and sometimes a few things in the same fall. The fight versus the police officers is the best yet, and Cyril keeps showing everyone that he needs to have more films of his own!  David Belle’s parkour suffers a bit, as some of the stunts are camera trickery and special effects, but enough of it is real so it didn’t bother me much. It just didn’t seem necessary as David Belle’s running is enough of a special effect.

As an aside, I don’t care what the story calls for, in no way does Cyril Rafaelli look that female from behind during the club scenes at the beginning. It’s just wrong. That whole scene is ten pounds of wrong.

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (8) Cyril Raeffelli channels Jackie Chan-style fight choreography in some scenes, but is able to pull it off, playfulness intact.

STUNTWORK: (9) The stunt men put their work in here, falling a lot and bouncing off of various pieces of walls and furniture, and the parkour chase scenes are great as well.

STAR POWER (7): Neither Cyril Raeffelli nor David Belle’s careers have taken off as much as it would’ve been expected, which is disappointing. Elodie Yung appears to be getting more roles, and will star as Jinx in GI Joe: Retaliation next year.

FINAL GRADE: (8) District 13 Ultimatum is a worthy follow-up to the surprise hit District B13, and parkour and martial arts has never looked better.

NEXT: Jang Dong Gun, Kate Bosworth and Geoffrey Rush take on Ti Lung in The Warrior’s Way!


Review: Kiss of the Dragon (2001)

Posted in Cyril Raffaelli, Jet Li, Luc Besson, Reviews with tags , on September 6, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

Starring Jet Li, Cyril Raffaelli, Tcheky Karyo, Bridgette Fonda

Fight Choreography by Corey Yuen

Directed By Chris Nahon

After dealing with several films from the Silver/DMX/Andrej Bartkowiak disasters, and hearing about how fans were a bit miffed that all of those films had him inexplicably dangling from wires and computer effects for no damn reason, Jet came up with an idea for a martial arts film that would allow him to get back to basics, and Luc Besson (The Fifth Element, La Femme Nikita) took his idea and wrote a script, hired one of his cohorts and produced, and thus came Kiss of the Dragon.

The film opens as Jian (Li) a chinese secret agent, finds himself in Paris, France to help the police capture a dangerous chinese arms dealer who is waiting in a posh hotel room for his contact. Jian’s contact in France is a police chief simply named Richard played smarmily (is that even a word?)well by Tcheky Karyo. Soon Jian finds that nothing is what it seems when Richard kills the arms dealer and tries to frame Jian, who is able to escape with a video tape implicating Richard in a fantastic scene that mixes practical stuntwork and some good fight scenes courtesy of Corey Yuen. The fights in the laundry room alone is better than any of Jet’s other American film fights combined.

After he escapes he makes his way to a shop that sells rice chips, but is really a front for Jian’s contact in Paris. He heads there to figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, Jessica, one of the prostitutes who went to see the arms dealer, turns out to be Richard’s woman, so to speak, because he’s holding her daughter hostage so he can make some money whoring her out. Yep, nice guy, isn’t he? So her pimp dumps her on prostitute row-just where the shop Jian’s staying in is located.

Jian goes to meet the assistant to the Chinese Ambassador, who also happens to know Jian and has some idea of the trouble he’s really in. They meet on a restaurant boat only to be ambushed by Richard’s men in an attempt to get the tape back. They kill the assistant, and Jian attempts to escape in once again another great fight scene, in the kitchen below all the way to the glass roof above.

Afterward the shenanigans with Jessica slow the film down, not too much, but you’ll notice it here. After another great fight scene between Jian and the pimp’s enforcer, Jian and Jessica escape and find that their goals are the same person for different reasons, and they form a partnership in order to get her daughter and for Jian to get Richard, and the entire story comes to a climax in the police station itself, as Jian fights off a room full of police officers with batons and then the big finale, an old school martial arts duel between himself and Richard’s main fighter (Raffaelli) in a glorious fight to the finish. Jain finally comes face to face with Richard for the final time, and then you’ll understand what the title of the film means…

This film is a breath of fresh air after the cavalcade of horrid American films Jet’s done. Luc Besson is a fan of Asian martial arts films, and it shows in every frame of film. He understands how to do it right. Director Chris Nahon placed the camera perfectly during the fight scenes. Gone are the quick edited scenes and shitty music-by the way, yes, it does have a Mystical song at the end, but dammit that song matches the fight perfectly and I can’t imagine another song in that spot. The song was there because it fit the scene, not to sell CD’s. Jet’s previous films have sold enough DMX albums…

Welcome back to good films, Jet!

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

CHOREOGRAPHY: (9) Well, look at that, someone finally woke Corey Yuen up and told him to choreograph, dammit! The fights are great across the board, and build up just as they should, and the final fight with Cyril Rafaelli is what we were wanting to get from Russell Wong and Mark Dacascos in Jet’s previous films, and we got cheated, but not here!  Bravo, Corey!

STUNTS: (8) The stuntmen did a really good job here, and sold all of their scenes, and they were game for more complex fighting.

STAR POWER: (8) Jet finally looks like the Jet we know from films like High Risk and Once Upon A Time in China, and Cyril Raffaelli really caught the public’s attention in his short scenes and fantastic end fight with Jet. Tcheky Karyo is great as usual, and Bridgette Fonda did a fairly good job.

FINAL GRADE: (9) The best of Jet’s U.S. output, even though I don’t really think it counts since it was really a French production. Either way, Jet and Corey woke up and listened to their REAL fans, and made a film to be proud of. I hope Jet sent a postcard to Joel Silver telling him to take his computers and rap stars and go suck it! Hell, I might still do that…

Review: District B-13 (2005)

Posted in Cyril Raffaelli, David Belle, Luc Besson, Reviews with tags , on July 21, 2010 by Michael S. Moore

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.