December 18, 2002

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Better than nothing
by Patrick Macias

IT WOULD TAKE a great philosopher and historian to explain the demise of the modern Hong Kong action film. But even if the blame falls at the feet of the 1997 China-Hong Kong handover, the cyclic nature of the film industry, or the fearful rise of romantic comedies starring Sammi Cheng, all Asian film freaks know is that every new Hollywood-backed Jackie Chan or Jet Li flick acts as a painful reminder of how far we've fallen from the giddy heights of Supercop or Fist of Legend. Good H.K.-made action flicks have become a thing of the past, a fact that makes watching The Transporter feel a bit like going to the dentist. You know the drill is going to hurt, and you only hope it will be over fast. Surprisingly, however, there are at least some things to recommend about this cable-ready time killer about an ex-Army mercenary bagman (Jason Statham) who gets mixed up, romantically and otherwise, with his cargo – a kidnapped gangland moll (Shu Qi). For starters, director Corey Yuen stages scenes of fantastic martial arts and gunplay reminiscent of his films Fong Sai Yuk and High Risk. A scene where Statham battles foes atop an oil slick armed only with bike pedals may be the giddiest thing you'll see all year: a perfect popcorn marriage of Wong Fei Hung and Black Belt Jones. OK, the script (cowritten by, ugh, Luc Kiss of the Dragon Besson) is crap, the gangster rap soundtrack is wildly inappropriate, and Qi is as annoyingly lovable as ever, but at least the comedy-action hits the target. Many of those recent Chan and Li vehicles have been helmed by people who have no idea how to block a scene or choreograph a fight. The Transporter is blessed with Yuen's sleight of hand, which can make Statham move like a legendary hero of China. Admittedly this isn't the best of all possible worlds, but it could be worse: without films like The Transporter, nostalgic HK film nuts would have only the memory of when kicky, silly martial arts movies walked the earth.

Patrick Macias is the author of TokyoScope: The Guide to Japanese Cult Movies.