Come with Me If You Want to Live
Safe lived up to its namesake for an action thriller, playing it safe with Jason Statham in a lead role of a character that he can probably sleepwalk through. Written and directed by Boaz Yakin, Safe has all the ingredients that will fit right into any Europa Corp mould, and in some ways, even as a hardcore Statham fan, I found his character of Luke Wright being a little too generic, and showcasing little of what we already know of what Statham can deliver.
The opening of the film will disorientate, even with the best of intentions to mirror and parallel its two primary characters of Wright, and the little Chinese girl Mei (Catherine Chan), whose superb mathematical intellect and photographic memory got sought after by gangsters with operations both in China and USA. Blackmailed with her mom's safety, Mei reluctantly lends her talent to the Chinese mob in New York, becoming the quintessential book-keeper without the books, storing every fact and running figure in her brain. As a reward, she is given the task of memorizing a series of boring numbers that points to a mystery of a combination, which forms the crux of the film given everyone's after her, from the cops, the Chinese mob, the Russian mafia to shady politicians. She runs.
Wright on the other hand, is that superhero that Jason Statham plays with aplomb from his days of The Transporter, already having some experience in protecting Chinese lasses. His backstory's like a phone directory that Yakin slowly unravels, that tells of more behind this one time cop with special skills, tying it with guilt complex and desperation in seeking redemption through underground fight rings, only for his one time fight back to kill off an opponent to whom he was supposed to throw a fight to. The Russian mob gets angry, and carries out their vow to make him the loneliest man on Earth. He runs.
But running can only bring you so far, and the time comes when the narrative puts these two runners together. Wright senses something amiss when he chances upon Mei for the first time, and becomes her de-facto protector, finding an opportunity to take some proactive action against all the stakeholders together in one fall swoop. In fact, this scheming, interspersed with rather rote action sequences from car chases, gun play and fist fights, makes Safe a little more interesting than your average action thriller. Yakin sets up the components where distinct interests of each faction becomes commodity that's traded with corrupt cops within NYPD, and to see each of them taken down by Wright using his brains, is more satisfying than those taken out by brawn.
Credit though to the story for not lingering around monologues longer than it should, with deliverance given without remorse, and in very standard bad-guys-get-their-just-desserts fashion without too much fuss. Sometimes too efficiently that Statham, for all his martial arts ability, doesn't quite get anything to do to flex his muscles. There are only a handful of scenes where he does get to punch up some goons, but the climax, set up to expect some serious brawling, turned out to be the most anti-climatic finale fights ever put on screen, though it knocked some logic into its rather illogical set up. Still, for Statham fans, his charismatic presence alone will make you root for his down and out character as he becomes the Transporter, sans flashy car, one more time, with human baggage in tow to protect.
The highlight in Safe though belongs to James Hong as the primary Chinese villain Han Jiao, the godfather of all rackets in Chinatown. Genre fans would recognize him instantly from his Lao Ban days in John Carpenter's Big Trouble in Little China, and it's good to see that despite going without heavy makeup seen in the mentioned film, he's still very much sprightly and has this villanous charisma going for him, even with limited screen time, split between him and his enforcer type, played by Reggie Lee. I for one would have loved if James Hong had some shared screen time with Jason Statham, and a mano a mano of sorts would probably elevate this film to cult status.